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D.C. Memo: Allow me to introduce myself

Wild times in D.C. with abortion hearings, a baby formula shortage, passage of domestic terror bill, and Cuban restrictions lifted.

Rep. Dean Phillips' dog, Henry.
Rep. Dean Phillips' dog, Henry.
Twitter

While I’ve been a Washington correspondent for a number of newspapers and news outlets across the nation, writing for the readers of the MinnPost brings me new opportunities — and challenges.

Minnesota is known for its populist politics, civic engagement and high ethical standards for politicians — standards which I understand are sometimes breached. Readers of MinnPost are sophisticated and politically savvy. That’s a real gift to a political junkie like me, but it also means I better up my game to bring my new readers the news they want, need and expect.

Ana Radelat
Ana Radelat
Living for most of my life in the Washington, D.C., area, I’ve always been a student of government and politics. I understand the cynicism of the Americans toward government, which has not always served them well. Congress has destroyed much of its effectiveness though hyper partisanship. But I still believe a well-informed, motivated electorate can change things for the better.

Being new, I am eager to learn from you. I may not always agree with everything you say, but am eager to hear from you, especially about the types of stories you’d like to read from the nation’s capital. Besides covering politics, I love books, movies, theater and traveling, which I haven’t done much of since the start of the pandemic.

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And so, here’s my first D.C. Memo.

Abortion hearings

Congress continued to feel aftershocks of the temblor touched off by the leaked draft Supreme Court opinion on Mississippi’s abortion law, which would overturn Roe v. Wade.  The House Judiciary Committee, controlled by Democrats, held a hearing Wednesday on the impact of a post-Roe America. Pro-choice witnesses invited by Democrats portrayed a bleak future for women, especially low-income women, who could not afford to travel to states where abortion remained legal to terminate their pregnancies. Meanwhile, the GOP’s sole witness called for an end to all abortions and more financial and moral support for struggling moms and babies.

Abortion is now clearly a mid-term election issue. Democrats on the panel warned a flip of the House and Senate to the GOP would result in federal legislation that would outlaw abortion across the nation. Republicans, for the most part, focused on how the leak of the draft opinion, and the reaction by pro-choice supporters, has “intimidated” the Supreme Court.

“This hearing is not about the unborn child,” said Rep. Michelle Fischbach, a Republican member of the Judiciary Committee. “This hearing seems to be held to exert an improper influence on the Supreme Court about an unfinished leaked opinion draft.”

Fischbach, R-7th District, also echoed other GOP colleagues by saying “the right to an abortion is not found in the Constitution.”

“It was created by the raw judicial power when the Supreme Court usurped the power of elected officials at the state and federal level,” Fischbach said.

Feed the babies who don’t have enough to eat

The U.S. House tried to tackle the nationwide shortage of baby formula this week, approving a bill to provide $28 million in emergency funding to the Food and Drug Administration. The vote was 231-192, with all the “no” votes from Republicans. A second bill, which would loosen restrictions around which baby formula could be purchased under the Special Nutritional Supplemental Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) sailed through on a much more bipartisan vote of 414-9.

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But, like so many issues on Capitol Hill, the baby formula crisis has become a political issue, with Republicans blaming the Biden administration for the scarcity, largely the result of the shutdown of an Abbott baby formula production facility in Michigan because of FDA concerns it might be the source of deadly infections.

“The American people are being forced to pay the price for the Biden administration’s supply chain failures,” said Rep. Tom Emmer, R-6th District, in a statement. “Formula isn’t a luxury, it’s an absolute necessity and the sole source of nutrition for nearly a fifth of our nation’s infants.”

Emmer and Fischbach were among a number of House Republicans who signed a letter drafted by Rep. Peter Stauber, R-8th District, to Biden and the FDA demanding answers to a number of questions, including when the administration was initially aware of the formula shortage and what steps they have taken to address it.

Meanwhile, the FDA this week has moved to try to solve the problem, including a preliminary agreement with Abbott Nutrition to reopen its plant, shuttered since February, and streamlining the process for the import of more formula from international manufacturers.

Abbott, which has denied any wrongdoing, said it can start to reopen its Michigan site in two weeks. But it will take another six to eight weeks before the baby formula would make its way to grocery store shelves.

Meanwhile, Biden has invoked the Defense Production Act, a 1950 law that allows the U.S. government to direct manufacturing production for national defense, to produce more baby formula. The president has also order U.S. military aircraft to help import formula from abroad.

Domestic terrorism bill passes House following Buffalo, N.Y. massacre

The racially motivated murders of 10 people in a Buffalo, N.Y. supermarket last weekend prompted House leaders to push for approval of the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, a bill that, among other things, would set up offices specifically focused on domestic terrorism at the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the FBI.

The bill had been stalled because of opposition from House Republicans and several progressive Democrats — including Rep. Ilhan Omar, 5th District — who were concerned about the legislation’s possible overreach. Omar once called the bill, sponsored by Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., “horrible.”

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Having negotiated some minor language changes in the bill, however, Omar and her fellow progressives helped win approval of the bill late Wednesday. Every House Democrat voted for the legislation, which passed 222-203, with just one Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, crossing party lines to support the bill.

Here’s the amended language that won over the progressive Democrats:

“Nothing in this Act, or any amendment made by this Act, may be construed to authorize the infringement or violation of any right protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States or an applicable provision of Federal law.”

The bill was also amended to certify that all investigations initiated by the legislation “are in compliance with all applicable civil rights and civil liberties laws and regulations.”

Like many of the initiatives approved in the Democratic-controlled U.S. House, the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act faces an uncertain future in the U.S. Senate. Like the U.S. House, that chamber is controlled by Democrats but subject to GOP filibusters, which take 60 votes to overcome. Democrats have a slim one-vote majority in the Senate.

‘Light at the end of the tunnel’

Minneapolis City Council President Andrea Jenkins said she believes she was one of the Black elected officials who were surveilled on social media by her city’s Police Department, one of the findings in a scathing report by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights that was released last month.

Although the voluminous report on the behavior of the Minneapolis Police Department did not name the Black elected officials subjected to surveillance, Jenkins said she “could not say for sure” she was among them, “but there are not a lot of Black elected officials in the city of Minneapolis.”

Jenkins was the subject of a May 19 Washington Post podcast with the newspaper’s assistant editor, Jonathan Capehart.

Jenkins told Capehart that nearly two years after the murder of George Floyd, who was killed on May 25, 2020, the city is “starting to see some light; a very dim light way down at the end of the tunnel.”

“I do sense spirits are a little bit lifted,” she said. “The lows seem a little bit lighter.”

Nevertheless, Jenkins said Minneapolis’s Black residents are “reeling over the events of Buffalo.”

Thirteen people were shot, 11 of them Black, and 10 died in a racially motivated shooting by a white man in a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., last Saturday.

“We know that police can be respectful and do their jobs the way they are supposed to because we just witnessed it in Buffalo,” she said. “A man who murdered 10 people and shot 13 people, he ended up being handcuffed and taken to jail and under due process of the law. They don’t give that level of professionalism and humanity, compassion and empathy, when it comes to Black communities.”

Yet Jenkins is optimistic. She likened the Minnesota Department of Human Rights report to a medical diagnosis.

“It gives us the opportunity to work towards sustainable reforms,” she said.

Jenkins also said negotiations have begun between the Police Department and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights on a consent decree that would legally bind the force to certain reforms. She said a completed decree was expected in the fall, after public input.

Capehart also asked Jenkins, the first transgender Black woman elected to public office, about the avalanche of legislation introduced in state legislatures  across the nation, including Minnesota, aimed at curtailing LGBTQ rights.

Jenkins said that in her “heart of hearts” she considered the legislation “red herrings” aimed at “ginning up the right-wing base.”

“The reason we are seeing these attacks is because we are seeing progress,” Jenkins said.

Let’s trade, cigars for bacon

One thing that does have bipartisan support in Congress, especially among farm state lawmakers, are efforts to end the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba.

President Biden this week reversed a series of Trump administration crackdowns on openings the Obama administration initiated toward Cuba, reinstating some forms of American travel, increasing the amount of money relatives in the United States can send to family in Cuba and expanding U.S. consular services on the island.

But those easing of U.S. sanctions is not enough for some Minnesota lawmakers, who have renewed their calls for a total elimination of the U.S. embargo.

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“In addition to the steps outlined by the administration, I also urge my colleagues to support my bipartisan legislation to lift the Cuba trade embargo so we can pave the way for new economic opportunities for the people of both nations,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said in a statement this week. “It is past time to open the door to Cuba’s export market and enable American manufacturers and farmers to compete on a level playing field with our competitors.”

Klobuchar, along with Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., are sponsors of a bill that would end the embargo. Republican Rep. Tom Emmer has also sponsored legislation to end the embargo.

American farmers believe the end of sanctions would allow Cuba to buy much more of their products, especially grains, pork and chicken. But efforts to end the Cuba embargo are strongly opposed by Cuban American members of Congress, which has always derailed such attempts.

Those Cuban merican lawmakers harshly criticized Biden for his opening to Cuba this week.

“For decades, the world has been traveling to Cuba and nothing has changed,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “For years, the United States foolishly eased travel restrictions arguing millions of American dollars would bring about freedom and nothing changed.”

Puppies

A cheerful sight in the U.S. Capitol is Rep. Dean Phillips’ Norwich terrier, Henry, whom the congressman takes on frequent walks.

Now Phillips, seeking reelection this year and perhaps making a stronger bid for the animal lover’s vote, has doubled down by getting a new dog, Sophie, a Pyrenean Shepherd. Yes, I will shamelessly take any opportunity to post photos of cute animals in the D.C. Memo.