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D.C. Memo: People are talking, ears are listening; Emmer pushes fentanyl as schedule 1 drug

Mask drama in the House, Democrats struggle to recover from losing Build Back Better and Emmer calls for removing fentanyl from the country.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Hello and welcome back to the D.C. Memo. This week you can find me reflecting on how strangely information gets passed around in this town. For example: I was getting a massage last night from a massage therapist that coincidentally works with a lot of congressional staffers, and learned some quite interesting things about what they’ve been saying about their bosses. Here’s what else I heard about this week: Mask drama in the House, Democrats struggle to recover from losing Build Back Better and Emmer calls for removing fentanyl from the country.

Masking the drama

Masks have been a major source of tension between House Democrats and Republicans for more than a year now. A chamber-wide mandate requires House lawmakers to put masks on while they’re on the House floor, and imposes steep fines if they don’t comply. The fines are $500 for a first-time offense and up to $2,500 per infraction after that. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) and Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Georgia) each have had more than $100,000 in fines withdrawn from their paychecks.

Now, though, some House Democrats are following the lead of Democratic governors around the country in calling for an end to mask mandates, despite their party enforcing one in the House chamber. 

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Though no decisions have been made yet, there’s been talk of going to the attending physician — the doctor who’s on site to take care of House members — before putting any new mask policies in place.

There have also been some pieces of legislation regarding mask mandates moving through Congress recently. Earlier this week, a bill called the Unmask Our Kids Act came up for discussion. The bill would have allowed parents to opt-out of student mask mandates and require that in-person instruction is available to all students.

Congressional hopeful Tyler Kistner, who is running against Rep. Angie Craig (D) for the Second District, used a vote on this bill for his campaign strategy. Kistner released a statement this week saying that Craig’s “no” vote against the bill was a refusal to “follow the science by voting to continue masking our children in schools.”

“Over the past two years, our children have been adversely affected by mask mandates with respect to their ability to learn effectively and their mental health. Emergency room visits due to potential suicides involving adolescents are rising at an alarming level, and no statistical data to justify masking children in schools helps lower transmission rates among children. The data is clear that mask mandates are having adverse effects on our children,” Kistner said.

However, Kistner’s claim was inaccurate. The Unmask Our Kids Act has never actually come to a vote on the House floor or even in committee. While the House was debating a bipartisan postal service bill and the continuing resolution to fund the government, some House Republicans introduced a measure to end debate on those two bills and instead consider the Unmask Our Kids Act. Craig and many other Democrats voted “no” on that measure to end debate, not on the actual bill itself.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this blurb indicated Craig’s “no” vote was against the Unmask act. This version have been clarified to correctly reflect Craig’s “no” vote was against ending debate on a postal service bill.

Build Back … never?

After a somewhat disastrous downfall (to Democrats, at least) of the Build Back Better Act, Democrats are scrambling to figure out how they can pass any of the progressive priorities that were baked into the $1.7 trillion budget bill.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) tanked the bill in December, and after Democrats failed to reform filibuster rules to pass voting rights legislation, the Senate is in a pretty stark cooling-off period at the moment.

On Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) called on Senate Democrats to vote on legislation that would lower prescription drug prices and he criticized what he called a lack of action on the issue. Lowering drug costs was a big part of the Build Back Better Act.

“We’re voting for an assistant secretary of something. The American people are not staying up nights worrying about that. They’re worried about prescription drugs. They’re worried about climate,” Sanders said.

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Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) joined Sanders in introducing a separate drug pricing measure on Wednesday, and also called for a Senate debate.

“How are you going to know if we don’t have the debate? How are you going to know if we’re just voting and voting and voting on the same stuff every single day?” Klobuchar asked.

The bill from Sanders and Klobuchar would lower the prices Medicare pays for drugs down to the levels paid by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Sanders asked for unanimous consent to bring his bill up on Wednesday, but it was blocked by Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), who said it would stifle innovation from drug companies and noted that it had not been vetted through the Senate’s regular process.  

Chip changes

Late last week Democrats pushed legislation through the House that they say positions the U.S. to better compete with China economically and on the global stage by, “strengthening the domestic semiconductor industry and shoring up strained supply chains.” In short, the bill would boost U.S. computer chip production. The bill passed by a vote of 222-210. 

Here are some of the provisions included in the bill:

  • $8 billion for a fund that helps developing countries adjust to climate change
  • $3 billion for facilities to make the U.S. less reliant on Chinese solar components
  • $4 billion to help communities with significantly higher unemployment than the national average
  • $10.5 billion for states to stockpile drugs and medical equipment

Despite slamming Democrats for months over rising inflation, Republicans called the measure “toothless” and short of what is needed to hold China accountable for economic and human rights abuses. They also said it would waste taxpayer dollars on environmental initiatives and other unnecessary programs. 

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The Associated Press spoke with Seventh District Rep. Michelle Fischbach (R) about the bill: “This bill is actually just a long list of progressive dream policies that have nothing to do with China at all,’ Fischbach said. 

Emmer: Get fentanyl out of the country

Sixth District Rep. Tom Emmer (R) joined a letter led by Rep. Bryan Steil (R-WI) to President Biden urging him to take immediate action to stem the influx of the drug fentanyl scourge coming into the U.S. The congressmen also asked Biden t0 support making fentanyl related substances Schedule 1 classification permanent.

According to a press release from Emmer’s office, “drug overdoses have claimed more Americans lives each year than ever before. Fentanyl and fentanyl related substances are fueling the overdose epidemic, killing 64,178 Americans between May 2020 and April 2021 and making up 64 percent of total U.S. overdose deaths. This highly lethal synthetic opioid is 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin.”

“Chinese-produced fentanyl smuggled across the southern border has stolen tens of thousands lives over the last year alone. Every day the Biden Administration fails to address this deadly flood we risk losing more Americans to this crisis,” Emmer said in the press release.

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What I’m reading

  • “A month of paid leave was transformative for my workplace,” Teen Vogue. Journalist Ko Bragg, who is the Race and Place editor at Scalawag Magazine, wrote this editorial for Teen Vogue in which she describes how Scalawag leadership decided to give their employees a full paid 30 days off around the December holidays. Bragg writes that she and her coworkers found the break to be restorative. Racial capitalism and white supremacy trick us into believing that everything is urgent and that we don’t actually have time to rest and that we can’t,” a colleague of Bragg said. “Anything’s possible when you have a radical imagination.” 
  • “Olympic athletes can be frank about their failures. Why are the rest of us so uneasy?” Washington Post. I’ve noticed a refreshing trend in Olympic sports recently, most notably with Olympic gymnast Simone Biles: Athletes are beginning to admit when they’re not feeling their best, and they’re talking more openly about mental health struggles. Biles may have been the most famous athlete to do this recently, but on Wednesday morning Olympic snowboarder Jamie Anderson was posting videos on Instagram talking about the “roller coaster of emotions” and emotional breakdown that hit her the night before her final run, where she took ninth place. This piece offers a fresh perspective on the pressure society places on athletes, and why we might not be willing to be so receptive of them showing us their mortality.