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D.C. Memo: Inappropriation

A federal funding scare; Rep. Ilhan Omar splits with the Democratic party and polls, polls, polls.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi holding her weekly press conference on Wednesday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi holding her weekly press conference on Wednesday.
REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Hello and welcome back to the D.C. Memo. This week you can find me reminiscing wistfully on my time at MinnPost — as they say in the industry, I have some “personal news” for you all. This Friday marks my last official day as MinnPost’s Washington Correspondent. I have had an incredible time sending the news from D.C. back to my home state, and I have especially enjoyed getting to know D.C. Memo readers and hearing from many of you every week. To that end, I won’t be fully saying goodbye just yet: Although my other reporting will cease, I will continue to write a weekly Memo until MinnPost finds my replacement. Thank you all for your encouragement (and occasional criticism!). Reader emails mean a lot more to reporters than you may think, and that has made my time at MinnPost even more enjoyable.

Now that all that is out of the way, let’s talk about what went on in Washington this week: a federal funding scare; Rep. Ilhan Omar splits with the Democratic party and polls, polls, polls.

The funding crisis that wasn’t

For months, House and Senate appropriators have been working on an omnibus FY2022 spending package. Late in the game, the White House requested the addition of $22.5 billion in new COVID-19 preparedness money. This number was less than what Democrats were hoping for, but for Senate Republicans, it was still too much.

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Then, with White House approval, House and Senate Democratic leaders decided to take back expired American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) relief money in order to cover the request, and settled on a new total of $15 billion. Some states got ARPA money in one payment, and others in two. The 30 states who got two payments — Minnesota included — were suddenly at risk of losing their second installment of funds.

Some governors were not happy.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi scheduled a vote for this bill for Wednesday afternoon, giving members less than 12 hours to review the 2,741-page bill.

According to MinnPost reporter Peter Callaghan, in St. Paul, word of the potential clawback of some of the state’s unspent ARPA money spread and state Senate GOP leaders summoned reporters for a warning: If Minnesota’s House DFL didn’t agree to spend the money immediately to repay a $1 billion-plus loan to the feds for jobless benefits, the state would lose $250 million.

Minnesota received $1.42 billion in direct ARPA funds last May and was to get a similar payment this May. All but $1.1 billion has already been appropriated.

“Our understanding is that the Congress is set to take this up either today or tomorrow,” Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller told Callaghan. “Our understanding is there’s a bipartisan agreement in the House and the Senate.” Miller also warned that other state’s are spending their money quickly and the state’s that don’t might have to give back even more to make up for that money.

Even before the mini-press conference was over, Pelosi had ended the threat, saying the U.S. House would not include the clawback in the spending bill.  By the way, the state House did not pass the unemployment insurance funding measure either.

Omar splits with (almost) every one of her colleagues

The House passed a bill Wednesday that banned Russian oil imports to the U.S. and approved additional sanctions against the Kremlin for Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Both Democratic and Republican leaders in the House supported the ban, and only 17 lawmakers, two Democrats and 15 Republicans, voted against it.

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One of those lawmakers was Minnesota’s Fifth District Rep. Ilhan Omar. The other Democrat to vote against it was Missouri Rep. Cori Bush.

In an appearance on Hill.TV’s “Rising” show on Tuesday, she said she would vote against the bill because of the impact it would have on other countries.

“That’s not only going to have a devastating impact on the people of Russia, but on Europe as well,” Omar said. “When we’re having these conversations, they can’t be about just the immediate, gratifying response that we want to come up with… I think ultimately, this is not going to end well for  the actual people of Russia.”

It’s not that Omar supports Russia over Ukraine — she said that she believed it crucial to provide Ukrainians with some defensive weapons, but she added: “Do I think that there is a point where it becomes too much? Yes.” Omar told the New York Times she was particularly worried about the prospect of arming an insurgency, “especially as civilians from around the world have flocked to Ukraine to help push back against the Russian Army.”

On Tuesday, President Biden banned U.S. imports of Russian oil, liquefied natural gas and coal, declaring that the U.S. “will not be subsidizing Putin’s war.” The ban could raise already high gas prices, which reached an average of $4.17 per gallon in the U.S. on Tuesday.

McCollum in power

Fourth District Rep. Betty McCollum, chair of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, led a classified hearing this week to receive testimony from General Tod Wolters, the commander of U.S. European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Command, for details on Russia’s military assault on Ukraine, the response from Ukrainian resistance, and U.S. military activities in the European theater to support Ukraine’s military operations.

McCollum told me this week that aside from being proud of leading such an important subcommittee in Congress, she has been proud to show up often as the only woman in the room. She said that it makes a difference to female military staff to see her there, and she hopes there will be more women in positions like this in the future.

After the hearing, McCollum released the following statement:

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“After 77 years of relative peace in Europe, a brutal and unprovoked war against the people of Ukraine is being waged by Russia,” McCollum said. “More than two million Ukrainian people are now refugees; millions more Ukrainians are trapped, facing aerial and ground attacks from Russian forces while desperately trying to find the basic necessities of food, water, and shelter. In this critical moment, this subcommittee has already approved more than $1.4 billion in assistance to Ukraine, and today Congress will approve an additional $13.6 billion provided by this subcommittee.”

Does anyone pay attention to polls anymore?

Seriously, let me know. I usually don’t pay a ton of attention to polls until election years, but here we are a fourth of the way through 2022 so it’s about time. Let’s talk numbers.

A Marist National/NPR/PBS NewsHour poll that ran at the end of February found that a majority (56  percent) of Americans perceive President Joe Biden’s first year in office to be …a failure.

Americans also think that Biden is not fulfilling campaign promises (54 percent), and he is doing more to divide the nation (52 percent) than to unite it.

Ahead of the State of the Union address, Biden’s approval rating was 39 percent, down from 41 percent in December. After the SOTU, however, the president’s approval rating improved by eight points to a 47 percent approval rating. The president’s annual address generally tends to correspond with a brief uptick in approval ratings, but Biden’s handling of the Russian invasion of Ukraine also seems to be bolstering his rating — 83 percent of Americans approve of the economic sanctions imposed against Russia by the U.S. and its allies.

At the same point in Donald Trump’s presidency, the former president had an average approval rating of 40.1 percent.

The most pressing issue for Biden now — at home, at least — is the economy. Prior to the SOTU, the president had a dismal economic approval rate of 36 percent. That has since improved to 45 percent approval, which may be an aftereffect of the SOTU combined with approval for handling of Russia.

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What I’m reading

  • “Companies tweeted for International Women’s Day. Then this account called out their pay gaps,” Washington Post. Tuesday was International Women’s Day, and I saw quite a few companies tweeting about how much they support their female employees. But then I noticed an account whose bio says: “Employers, if you tweet about International Women’s Day, I’ll retweet your gender pay gap.” The account went viral, and maybe would have gotten even bigger if it did American companies — it only monitored British companies, because unlike the U.S., their government collects data on the pay gap. The worst gap seemed to be in the company Ryanair, which shows women’s median hourly pay as 68.6 percent lower than men’s. Yikes.
  • “It’s the end of the world as we know it. And we’re still at work,” Elle. I’ve seen so many (very needed) articles during the pandemic about working moms and their struggle to handle child care while simultaneously juggling zoom calls. This article is interesting because it’s one of the only ones I can remember that examines how childless women specifically have been faring in the workplace throughout the pandemic. I’ve always been fascinated by the career assumptions set on women depending on their motherhood status or lack thereof. This quote stuck out to me: “I was working from home and without kids, so there was kind of a combined assumption from my peers that I would always be available, because what else would I be doing?”

That’s all from me this week. Thanks for reading. As always, please feel free to send any questions, comments or stories about a crisis-that-wasn’t in your own life to ahackett@minnpost.com, or follow me on Twitter at @byashleyhackett.