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D.C. Memo: Surprise deal on key Democratic legislation, Justice Department turns up heat on Trump and Phillips says no to Biden in 2024

Plus: No shame over school lunch, question over votes to pass a tech bill and police funding bill shot down.

Sen. Joe Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
Sen. Joe Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer surprised many by announcing this week he had reached a deal with West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who for months thwarted attempts to pass a massive spending bill that was at center of President Biden’s economic agenda.

The agreement on a slimmed-down spending package aims to lower health-care costs, combat climate change and reduce the federal deficit. Dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, the $433 billion package would give Americans tax credits with the hopes they would lower energy costs, increase clean energy production and reduce carbon emissions roughly 40% by 2030.

It drew a shocked reaction from Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn.

“Holy shit. Stunned, but in a good way,” the senator tweeted shortly after the deal was announced Wednesday afternoon. “$370B for climate and energy and 40% emissions reduction by 2030.”

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The agreement contains several provisions Smith has been pressing for in the electricity utility sector, including a 10-year extension of tax credits for wind, solar, biofuels and other green technologies. Another Smith-sponsored measure would promote the installation of solar panels and wind turbines in rural areas. There’s also a new tribal energy loan guarantee program in the legislation that would help tribes establish clean energy.

The agreement also would allow Medicare for the first time to negotiate the price of certain drugs. And it includes a $2,000 annual cap for seniors for their out-of-pocket spending for prescription drugs.

The package would also extend for three years the federal tax credits established during the pandemic that lowered health insurance costs for roughly 13 million Americans, about 44,000 of them in Minnesota. Without congressional action, these individuals would have seen premium increases next year on plans purchased through Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges like MNsure.

Senate Republicans are unanimously opposed to the legislation, but won’t be able to use the filibuster to stop it. The package will be considered under the process of budget reconciliation, which would require only 50 votes — and the vote of Vice President Kamala Harris — for approval.

Schumer said he expects to vote on the package next week. The U.S. House will be on its August recess then, but could be called back to vote on the legislation.

Justice Dept. steps up Trump probe

Also, the nation’s capital was rocked this week by revelations that Justice Department prosecutors have directly asked witnesses in recent days about former President Trump’s involvement in efforts to reverse his election loss.

Instead of waiting for a final report and recommendation from the U.S. House’s special Jan. 6 committee, the Justice Department is moving forward on its independent investigation on Trump’s role in the effort to overturn the 2020 election won by Joe Biden, according to a number of reports based on anonymous sources.

Those reports say the Justice Department has subpoenaed and interviewed, Marc Short, chief of staff of former Vice President Mike Pence, and fellow Pence aide Greg Jacob. Both men had participated in key meetings in the weeks before the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol that was intended to disrupt certification of Biden’s electoral win.

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The Justice Department could be seeking to press criminal charges against Trump — or not. No former president has ever been charged with a crime in the country’s history.  Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were accused of wrongdoing, but successive administrations concluded it was better to grant immunity or forgo prosecution.

Democrat Phillips says he doesn’t think Biden should run for reelection

Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips on Thursday said he does not think President Joe Biden should run for reelection in 2024, preferring instead a younger, more “dynamic” Democrat be at the top of the presidential ticket.

In an interview on the Chad Hartman radio show on WCCO-AM, Phillips, who represents Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District, was asked if he would support Biden in 2024.

“No,” Phillips replied, “I think the country would be well-served by a new generation of compelling, well-prepared, dynamic Democrats who step up.”

Phillips said he “has respect” for Biden and his accomplishments.

But Phillips, 53, also said Biden would be 80 years old in 2024 and that other Democrats in Congress share his views.

“I think it’s time for a generational change,” Phillips said. “And I think most of my colleagues agree with that.”

There has been a whisper campaign for months among Democrats who want someone other than Biden to be their party’s nominee, especially if Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is the Republican candidate.

In response to Phillips’s comments, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday there’s a lot of ground to cover before the next presidential election.

“The president intends to run in 2024 — we are a ways away from 2024,” Jean-Pierre said.

She also cited two legislative wins Biden enjoyed this week: a deal on a massive health and climate bill and legislation Congress has approved that would subsidize U.S.-made semiconductor chips.

“Those are the things that we’re going to continue to focus on and much more,” Jean-Pierre said. “And, so, right now, 2024 is so far away.”

Few Democrats in Congress have made their preferences over a Biden re-election campaign public — or said outright they would not support their party’s standard bearer.

Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., said last month that he did not know if he would support Biden.

“I don’t know if he’s running in 2024 or who’s running, so I’m not going to opine on who should be president,” Malinowksi said at a town hall.

And Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who has agreed to support a legislative deal that would greatly advance Biden’s economic agenda, on Thursday said he hasn’t decided if he’ll support Biden for a second term.

A CNN poll released Wednesday showed that 75% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters want their party to nominate someone other than Biden in the 2024 election, a sharp increase from the findings of a similar poll earlier this year.

Democratic dissatisfaction with Biden comes as the president’s approval ratings remain low and a majority of Americans tell pollsters they believe the country is going in the wrong direction. Inflation remains high, consumer confidence continues to slip and the pandemic lingers.

Like all U.S. House members, Phillips is up for reelection this year, facing a challenge from Republican Tom Weiler.

While analysts are calling the 3rd District “safe Democratic,” and Phillips handily beat Republican opponents in his first and second race to represent the district, Democrats are on the defensive in this campaign season.

Biden’s unpopularity as well as historic losses the party in the White House suffers in midterms has made many Democrats in so-called “safe” districts wary.

No shame at school

It’s a little early for back-to-school planning but Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-5th, have introduced the No Shame at School Act, which would prohibit public schools from shaming students who are unable to pay for school meals or who have outstanding debt.

The legislation would require schools to certify a child’s unpaid meal fees and would authorize the federal government to reimburse the meals for up to 90 days.

“Everyone knows you can’t learn or perform well when you are hungry,” Smith said in a statement. “We need to support students in Minnesota and across the country by ensuring that kids are not humiliated because of an inability to pay for lunch.”

Omar as a child lived as a Somali refugee in a Kenyan camp for four years and said she “experienced real hunger” there.

Whom to believe?

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told a group of donors this week that the bill sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, that aims to rein in big tech is a “priority” but does not have the votes to pass.

Sixty votes are needed to overcome an expected GOP-led filibuster of the legislation.

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Klobuchar maintains there’s bipartisan support and she has the votes for approval of her legislation, which aims to level the playing field when it comes to Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon. Called the American Choice and Innovation Online Act, Klobuchar’s bill would bar companies from “self-preferencing” their own products in search results. Referring to Schumer, Klobuchar said in a statement that “we were promised a vote on this bill and we take him at his word.”

“We have growing momentum and the support to pass the bill despite the fact that the companies have spent an atrocious amount of money on lobbyists and TV ads spreading false information,” Klobuchar said.

The tech giants have spent millions of dollars trying to derail Klobuchar’s legislation.

Police funding bills shot down

Reps. Angie Craig, D-2nd, and Dean Phillips, D-3rd, have pleaded with House leaders to allow a vote on a package of policing bills, including two sponsored by Reps. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., and Abigail Spanberger, D-Va.

The bills would offer more federal funding for local police departments to invest in mental health response teams, and included other measures aimed at reducing community violence.

The Democratic House leaders agreed hold vote on the bills to try to shield some of the party’s most vulnerable members from GOP attacks that Democrats are soft on crime. But House leaders were forced to pull the bills from consideration this week because there was a pushback from Democratic progressives and members of the Congressional Black Caucus who wanted more accountability measures and benchmarks for the programs being funded.

Craig told the MinnPost she was disappointed there was not vote on the policing bills before the House adjourned for August recess the end of the week.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters he would allow more time to negotiate more accountability measures and other provisions in the policing bills to try to unite the fractured Democrats on this issue.

“I think we can get (the policing bills) across the finish line,” Craig said.

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