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D.C. Memo: Angie Craig attacked again, this time by threatening calls

Plus: D.C. has ballooning problem, Craig travels to southern border to spar with GOP about fentanyl.

Rep. Angie Craig
Rep. Angie Craig
MinnPost file photo by Walker Orenstein

WASHINGTON — Rep. Angie Craig, D-2nd District, on Friday released audio of horribly obscene and threatening  phone messages the lawmaker said were sparked by a Fox News anchor’s depiction of Craig as an advocate of “defunding the police.”

Fox News host Jeanine Pirro mentioned the attack Craig suffered last week in the elevator of her Washington, D.C. apartment building. Craig was brutally attacked by an apparent homeless man with previous assault charges, but managed to escape her attacker, and call 911, after throwing hot coffee on him.

“You’ve done your damage, stick with it,” Pirro said. “Defund the police as it relates to you.”

The audio of one of the least obscene calls released by Craig’s office said:

“Yes, Representative, Craig. I was just calling because I wanted to say I am so glad that you were attacked. I really am. I mean, I hate it in one way, but I’ve been saying probably for the last two years, at least year and a half, and until our Congress people and politicians are getting attacked, nothing is going to change. Nothing was going to happen. So it’s about time that y’all started getting attacked because like I said nothing was going to change and now, you know what it feels like … That’s what I’m hoping for, is that a lot more people in Congress and our Senators are starting to get attacked so that we do start seeing some changes.”

Other messages were far more menacing, using racist epithets and wishing sexual violence upon Craig.

In a release, Craig said Pirro had been influenced by the National Republican Congressional Committee, which put out a blast email earlier in the day urging supporters to “defund Angie.”

“Violent crime is running rampant while hypocrites like Angie Craig are backtracking on their previous support for defunding the police,” the NRCC said.

NRCC spokesman Chris Gustafson said “no one condones violence against elected officials.” But Gustafson also alleged Craig is aligned with “extremists” who want to defund the police.

Fox News had no immediate response to Craig’s release.

Craig has introduced legislation that would provide local police with more resources. She voted for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in 2020, but has since said the legislation would go too far in stripping police officers of some of their immunity for act committed in the line of work. Craig has also won the endorsement of local sheriffs, police chiefs and the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association when she ran for reelection last year.

Laura Cottrell, Craig’s communication director, said “harassing the victim of a violent crime on national television is abhorrent behavior.”

“The messages and threats received by Rep. Craig’s office following the NRCC hit job and Fox News’ false and inflammatory coverage of her assault represent the worst of our society,” Cottrell said. “We are sharing these difficult messages to help everyone understand the impact of this careless rhetoric and what happens after these reckless political attacks. It’s dangerous. It’s gutter politics at its worst.”

Craig’s office said the audio of the calls have been turned over to the U.S. Capitol Police.

Looman nomination stalls

The nomination of Jessica Looman, a former labor union and Minnesota state official, was stalled this week when two Republican senators who had supported her candidacy for a top job in the U.S. Labor Department changed their minds.

The Health, Education, Pensions and Labor (HELP) Committee on Wednesday was expected to vote out Looman’s nomination to head the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division. Looman’s nomination had been approved by the HELP Committee in the previous Congress, but a confirmation vote by the full U.S. Senate was never held.

On Wednesday, Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who voted last year to move Looman’s nomination out of committee changed their votes. And Sen. Bob Casey, Jr., D-Pennsylvania, was absent from the committee markup, and his proxy vote was not permitted to break a 10-10 tie vote.

“Senator Murkowski chose not to support any of the Biden administration’s nominees in yesterday’s markup,” said Murkowski spokeswoman Karina Borger. “Her support for the administration’s nominees and legislative efforts should never be assumed, nor taken for granted.”

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Three other Biden candidates were considered by the HELP Committee on Wednesday. While the committee is expected to eventually approve Looman’s nomination – when all Democratic members of the panel can show up for a markup – the “no” votes from Collins and Murkowski imperil Looman’s confirmation. At least 60 votes are needed to confirm Looman and Democrats have only 51.

Looman has served as acting Wage and Hour Division administrator and as principal deputy administrator of the agency because President Biden has had a tough time filling the position of administrator of the agency, which polices unfair labor and wage practices. Nominees for the job have faced opposition from both business groups and labor advocates, depending on whether the candidate was appointed by a Democratic or Republican president. Biden’s first nominee for the position, David Weil, who had served as administrator under former President Obama, was forced to withdraw his nomination because Senate Democrats could not muster enough support for his candidacy.

Before coming to Washington, D.C., to serve in Biden’s Labor Department, Looman led the Minnesota Department of Commerce and was deputy commissioner of that state’s Department of Labor and Industry. Before that, she was the executive director of the Minnesota State Building and Construction Trades Council and general counsel for LIUNA Minnesota and North Dakota.

At the Labor Department, Looman is overseeing an overhaul of regulations regarding prevailing wages and independent contractors.

Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, the highest ranking Republican on the HELP Committee, said those new regulations were reason enough for the Senate not to confirm Looman. He said the regulations would “effectively destroy the independent contracting and franchising industries.”

“Ms. Looman has consistently used her position to prioritize ideology above impartial enforcement, which does not warrant her confirmation,” Cassidy said in a statement.

Her supporters continue to push for Looman’s confirmation.

“I remain committed to confirming Jessica Looman to lead the Wage and Hour Division at the Department of Labor,” Sen. Tina Smith said in an emailed statement. “ Having worked closely with Jessica for years in Minnesota, I know first-hand how qualified she is and I can’t think of a better nominee for this critical post.”

A ballooning problem

Since Feb. 4, when the United States shot down a Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina, federal officials have enhanced radars and trackers that monitor U.S. airspace, setting off the downing of other unidentified object.

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After fighter jets last week fired on an object over Alaska that the Pentagon said was most likely a balloon the size of a small car, two other objects in the sky were targeted – a cylindrical object over the Yukon Territory in Canada and another object with strings hanging off it over Lake Huron. The 148th Fighter Wing, an Air National Guard unit based in Duluth known as the Bulldogs, helped shoot down the unidentified object floating high above Lake Huron.

John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council said the three objects, which were much smaller than the 200-foot-tall Chinese balloon, were likely “tied to some commercial or benign purpose.”

Yet members of Congress this week demanded to know what the heck was happening. So senators were given classified briefings on the floating objects that have been shot down. Since the briefing was classified, the senators could not say what they had learned.

Few were satisfied with the information provided them.

“We still have questions about why they didn’t discover these balloons sooner, these objects sooner,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters.

He said fellow Democrat, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, would lead a Senate investigation into the balloon issue.

While the most recent balloons shot down by U.S. forces may be benign, Politico reported that lobbyists for the defense industry have seized on the “crisis” to argue against any cuts in the Pentagon’s budget.

According to Politico, the lobbyists are requesting more money for radars. There’s already a system, known as the “North Warning System,” that was deployed I finding the latest balloons over U.S. territory. That aging system features nearly 50 radars 14 miles wide and 3,000 miles long stretching from eastern Canada to Alaska.

Craig enters fray over immigration policy

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With the U.S. House out of session for a couple of weeks, the Republican-led House Energy and Commerce Committee decided to hold a field hearing in McAllen, Texas Wednesday entitled “President Biden’s Border Crisis is a Public Health Crisis.”

Rep. Angie Craig, D-2nd District, a new member of the panel, joined other Democrats at the hearing pushing back against GOP arguments that undocumented immigrants are responsible for the nation’s fentanyl crisis.

“This hearing is not a political theater,” Craig said. “My constituents aren’t interested in a blame game. They are interested in solutions.”

Craig said “even the title of this hearing is political.”

She tangled with witness Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, over the seizure of fentanyl by law enforcement authorities, pointing to a study that determined 97% of those seizures were at border crossing checkpoints. Judd maintained that undocumented migrants have been caught smuggling fentanyl in their backpacks and that it’s much easier to catch smugglers at points of entry, where every vehicle is inspected. He said more resources are needed to catch illegal entrants into the United States, and not at border crossings.

Like other lawmakers who spoke of the scourge of fentanyl in their districts, Craig told the story of Devin Norring, an honors student at Hastings High School who was killed in April of 2020 by fentanyl poisoning.

Fentanyl is coming into the United States from Mexico, where drug cartels obtain materials needed to make fentanyl from China. But a way to stop the import of this killer drug, which the nation’s youth is buying on Snapchat and other social media, is likely to prove elusive because of the partisan divide over the immigration and the politicizing of the issue by the GOP.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the Republican chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, repeatedly referred to “President Biden’s open-border agenda.”

And on Thursday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was headed to Arizona to tour the border along with other Republicans, and bash Biden for what many GOP lawmakers maintain is a “border crisis.”

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Minnesota counties political clout to grow

About 20 commissioners of Minnesota counties were in D.C. this week for the 2023 National Association of Counties (NACo) Legislative Conference.

The nation’s county executives have plenty of political clout, commanding an impressive roster of speakers at the conference that included Biden and several Cabinet members, including Secretary of Transportation Peter Buttigieg and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

Minnesota’s profile in NACo is about to become much more prominent as Ramsey County Commissioner Mary Jo McGuire, now the organization’s first vice president, will be named NACo president at a meeting in Texas this summer.

Kevin Paap, a Blue Earth County commissioner, said a new farm bill, the cost of health care and childcare and access to broadband and a tight labor market were among the top issues for Minnesota county commissioners in the nation’s capital this week. He said access in D.C. this week to Cabinet members, and staffers of all of the government agencies, as well as Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith and Rep. Brad Finstad, R-1st District, was invaluable.

D.C.’s warmer than usual February weather wasn’t bad either, Paap said.

“This is the warmest weather that I’ve been in for months,” he said.