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D.C. Memo: Washington and the nation focused on Ian; Florida

Plus: Stock ban placed on hold, Weiler named a “Young Gun” and Dems and Republicans show they can agree.

A view of the widespread destruction in Fort Myers, Florida, following Hurricane Ian.
A view of the widespread destruction in Fort Myers, Florida, following Hurricane Ian.
REUTERS/Marco Bello

WASHINGTON — Hurricane Ian had everybody transfixed here – as it does across the nation.

The massive storm’s threat to Florida was cited as the reason for the cancellation of a hearing this week by the Jan. 6 committee, which is investigating the storming of the U.S. Capitol on that day Congress certified the 2020 election results.

The chairman of that committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., is also the head of the House Homeland Security Committee, which will have its hands full in the storm’s wake approving new funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the federal flood insurance program, especially since Ian followed Hurricane Fiona’s destructive romp through Puerto Rico.

The Jan. 6 hearing would have been the first after Congress’ August break and would have followed a series of blockbuster presentations earlier this summer. Those earlier hearings, which featured new testimony from top aides, advisers and allies to former President Donald Trump, aimed to show the former president had a much larger role to play in efforts to overturn the 2020 election results and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

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While the public hearing was postponed, Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, testified behind closed doors before the Jan. 6 committee on Thursday.

The hurricane has taken a huge toll on the lives of Floridians and may, temporarily at least, tamp down some political animosities.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican with his eyes on the White House, must now rely on President Biden’s help. The two political rivals spoke by phone on Tuesday night. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, in a statement, that Biden and DeSantis were “committed to continued close coordination.”

However, Ian’s brutal stride through Florida did not stop DeSantis and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and his Democratic rival, Rep. Val Demings, from continuing to run campaign ads during the storm, reports Politico.

Politico said some campaigns took down their ads in markets that were directly impacted by the storm, but left them up in places “that have gotten some impacts but have not experienced the full fury.”

“I think campaigns should shift to helping what will be hundreds of thousands of Floridians that will need a lot of assistance,” said former Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush when asked about the campaigning.

Omar agrees with GOP

Also this week, Congress came to an agreement on a short-term funding bill that would prevent a government shutdown on Oct. 1, the beginning of the new federal fiscal year.

A shutdown loomed because both houses of Congress were unable to approve the 13 appropriations bills that would fund the 2023 federal budget. So Congress will pass a “continuing resolution,” or CR, that will fund government agencies at 2022 levels for another 10 weeks, with a few “anomalies.”

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Those include roughly $12 billion for Ukraine assistance, $20 million to help Jackson, Miss., clean up its water crisis, $2.5 billion to address damage from a wildfire in New Mexico, and $1 billion to boost funding for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP. In the state, the program is known as Minnesota’s Energy Assistance Program.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce expected to cover about 120,000 homes this winter with this subsidy, whose average benefit is $500. It’s not known how the $1 billion boost to LIHEAP will be distributed to the states or how it would impact Minnesota’s Energy Assistance Program. It may result in increased payments to those who need help with their heating bills to offset sharply increased energy costs.

Missing from the budget bill was a provision Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer promised Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to help win over Manchin’s support for the Inflation Reduction Act, a massive climate change and health care bill that required the support of all Senate Democrats for approval. Manchin’s provision would loosen oil and natural gas permitting regulations.

But a strange alliance between congressional Republicans – who chaffed at Manchin’s support for the Inflation Reduction Act – and progressives like Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-5th, resulted in the permitting proposal’s removal from the government funding bill.

“This deal would have flown in the face of bedrock environmental protections, endangered public health, and fast-tracked more oil pipelines,” Omar said in a statement.

She also said “the climate crisis is here, and the bare minimum of climate action requires fossil fuel divestment.”

Manchin, meanwhile, said he asked Schumer to remove the permitting proposals that progressives and the GOP opposed because of his “firmly held belief that we should never come to the brink of a government shutdown over politics.”

And Klobuchar and Emmer also agree on something  

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Rep. Tom Emmer, R-6th, led an effort this week to help disabled veterans who need emergency transportation and treatment but don’t qualify for that benefit under their Veterans Health Administration coverage.

Under the VA Mission Act, which became law in 2018, emergency transportation and treatment at in-network, non-Veterans Health Administration facilities became eligible for reimbursement. But that new benefit was restricted to veterans with a service-connected disability of 30% or more.

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Supported by every member of the Minnesota congressional delegation, Klobuchar and Emmer wrote to Dennis McDonough, the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, to expand the emergency transportation benefits to all veterans who received VA-authorized emergency care.

The lawmakers said the current method of reimbursement has left a large group of veterans with burdensome unpaid emergency travel bills, at a time when emergency travel has risen nearly 18%.

“No veteran should have to wonder how their medical bills will be paid. Our veterans have sacrificed so much for us, and it is unconscionable that they have been saddled with disparate medical costs to receive care when they need it most,” Emmer said.

Stock trading ban flounders

The House was set to take up a massive stock-trading bill this week that would ban trading in individual stocks by lawmakers, their spouses and dependent children, the president and vice president, cabinet officers, federal judges – including Supreme Court justices – and other senior government officials.

Under the legislation, those public officials would be required to divest their financial investments or place them in a qualified blind trust upon entering government service.

Congress has debated for at least a year the need to limit lawmakers’ trade in individual stocks because it has resulted in conflicts of interest or perceived conflicts of interest. Support for reform is bipartisan and backed by several Minnesota lawmakers, including Reps. Angie Craig, D-2nd and Dean Phillips, D-3rd.

But the reach of the bill introduced by California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who chairs the House Administration Committee, was so broad that it failed to garner enough support.

Walter Shaub, senior ethics fellow at the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group, tweeted that Lofgren, with the support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, had deliberately included “poison pills” in the legislation, especially the prohibition on stock trading by Supreme Court justices, to ensure the attempt to ban stock trading would fail.

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“This is what’s known as a poison pill,” Shaub tweeted. “Lofgren & Pelosi are desperate to block a stock ban. Adding a provision they know Republicans will block is a way to do it.”

Weiler is a new “Young Gun”

Tom Weiler, the Republican running to unseat Phillips in Minnesota’s 3rd, is the National Republican Campaign Committee’s latest “Young Gun.”

That’s the designation given to those who are considered to have the best chance of ousting a Democratic House member or winning an open seat.

The “Young Gun” designation opens the door for Weiler, a Navy veteran, to start receiving help, in the form of NRCC-funded campaign ads and campaign advisers.

“For nearly sixty years this district was represented by strong, pragmatic leaders and this designation will provide additional resources to ensure we Turn the Ship Around (sic) in the Third and truly represent the hard-working families and mid-western values of our district in Congress,” Weiler said in a statement.

Emmer, who is the head of the NRCC, said “I congratulate Tom on his designation as a Young Gun.”

“From his time in the Navy to his decision to run for Congress, he has consistently proven his dedication to our country,” Emmer said. “Throughout his campaign, he has emphasized that he believes that his service is not yet complete.”

While Weiler is a new “Young Gun,” he’s still an underdog in a Democratic-leaning district that Phillips has represented since 2019.