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D.C. Memo: Dean Phillips eyeing White House run

Plus: Another possible shutdown, lawmakers want feds to protect workers from record heat and Biden chooses Latino for federal bench in Minnesota.

Rep. Dean Phillips
Rep. Dean Phillips
Kevin Dietsch/Pool via REUTERS

WASHINGTON – Rep. Dean Phillips, who once said younger Democrats should challenge President Biden, plans to meet with Democratic donors in New York next week to help determine if he should be among them.

Exactly one year ago, Phillips, 54, was the first Democrat to publicly question whether Biden was the best candidate Democrats could field, saying he did not think the president should run for reelection in 2024, preferring instead a younger, more “dynamic” Democrat be at the top of the presidential ticket.

Phillips’ ambitions were first reported by Politico , who said the lawmaker is highly unlikely to mount a primary challenge unless Biden’s health worsens or his political standing drops precipitously. Phillips’ re-election campaign confirmed that the lawmaker will meet with Democratic donors in New York City next week.

A moderate, active member of the bipartisan Problems Solvers Caucus, Phillips has represented Minnesota’s 3rd congressional district since 2019. The district encompasses the western suburbs of the Twin Cities, including  Bloomington, Minnetonka, Edina, and Eden Prairie. We reached out to Phillips’ office for comment following the Politico story but we were unable to get immediate comment.

Possible shutdown?

A fight among House Republicans over the spending bills that would fund the federal government consumed Congress this week and raised the specter of a government shutdown on Sept. 30, the end of the 2023 fiscal year when the government’s current spending authority will end.

The conflict has occurred because a group Freedom Caucus members – the most conservative Republicans in the House – have insisted on a number of riders on the spending bills that have plunged the culture wars into an already contentious debate about government spending. Controversial riders include measures that would block all federal funds for gender affirming care, prevent the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from proposing a rule to reduce nicotine in cigarettes to make them less addictive, eliminate funding for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program and ban federal workers’ health insurance from covering abortion.

“We made a commitment to the American people we would reduce spending, we would freeze the spending levels and we were going to remove all of the woke spending programs that the Biden administration has put out over the last couple of years,” said Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., at a Freedom Caucus press conference on Wednesday.

Perhaps the most contentious rider is in the bill that would fund the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. It would overturn FDA guidance that would allow the drug mifepristone, which is used in medical abortions, to be sold through the mail and at retail pharmacies.

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The abortion pill rider provoked a group of moderate Republicans in swing districts to signal they would not vote for the spending bill – which is, like most of the GOP appropriations bills – opposed by all House Democrats. Yet House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., cannot afford to lose more than five votes.

To make matters worse for House GOP leaders, some farm state Republicans have voiced concerns over the deep spending cuts to the USDA/FDA bill that Freedom Caucus members have demanded.

On Thursday, House GOP leaders threw in the towel, pulling consideration of the bill until September, when the House returns from a six-week recess.  That narrows the amount of time lawmakers will have to approve the bills that would avoid a shutdown.

The issue is further complicated by the Freedom Caucus’ insistence that the government not be funded by a continuing resolution. That’s a way Congress has often used to fund the government temporarily at last year’s spending levels. Nor does the Freedom Caucus support funding the government through a huge omnibus bill composed of most of the 12 spending bills.

And the agreement to lift the debt ceiling mandates tighter caps on spending if all 12 individual spending bills are not approved by Congress.

The Senate, meanwhile, is moving forward on all 12 spending bills on a largely bipartisan basis and with little drama.

House Democrats are watching the conflict among House GOP lawmakers on the sidelines.

“It’s Kevin (McCarthy’s) problem,” said Rep. Angie Craig, D-2nd District.

It’s also House Majority Whip Rep. Tom Emmer’s problem as he must try again to coral enough votes to get the spending bills approved.

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“This is not what my constituents want,” Craig said of the impasse. “The House majority is off the rails with the Freedom Caucus.”

Rep. Betty McCollum, D-4th District, a senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said the process of moving the 12 appropriations bills that fund the federal government through the House has been chaotic and unprecedented. She called the social riders on the spending bills “very hateful and very discriminatory” against women, people of color and the LGTBQ community.

“I don’t want a shutdown, I just want to get my work done,” McCollum said.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-5th District, is hoping McCarthy compromises – with Democrats.

“I hope McCarthy makes the same agreement as he did with the debt ceiling and we can avoid (a shutdown.)” Omar said.

Too hot

With record temperatures across the nation dozens of Democratic lawmakers – including Reps. Omar, and McCollum – have asked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to take action to prevent heat-related deaths.

“This year has already brought record high temperatures that have led to preventable deaths in the workplace,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to top OSHA officials. “In Dallas, Texas, a USPS employee of over 40 years died while on his route in 115- degree heat. In Harrison County, Texas, a 35-year-old lineman working to restore power died, likely from heat exhaustion. We know extreme weather events such as heat waves are becoming more frequent and more dangerous due to climate change. Urgent action is needed to prevent more deaths.”

The letter criticized Texas for its rollback of worker protections and praised California, Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington for taking “a proactive approach to protecting workers from extreme heat by implementing statewide heat rules.”

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In Minnesota, for instance, indoor workers may not be required to perform heavy work when the indoor heat index is too high. In California, when temperature rise above 80 degrees, employers are required to allow workers to take preventative cooldown rests in a shaded area at any time they feel at risk of overheating.

The lawmakers said the federal government should step up its worker protection and draft a new heat standard “incorporating the best practices from these state rules by using them as the baseline for the federal standard.”

Omar said heat waves have been common overseas – more than 61,000 people died of heat-related deaths during Europe’s record-breaking heat wave last year – and now they are bedeviling the United States, including cool weather, northern states like Minnesota.

“It feels too close for comfort,” Omar said.

Biden nominates the first Latino to Minnesota’s federal bench

President Joe Biden on Thursday nominated Minnesota Court of Appeals Judge Jeffrey Bryan to the federal bench.

If confirmed by the Senate, Bryan would serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota and would be the first Latino to serve on that court, the White House said.

Born in El Paso, Texas, Bryan is of Mexican descent.

Besides serving on the Minnesota Court of Appeals, Bryan has worked as a judge on the Ramsey County District Court, where he presided over both civil and criminal cases. He also served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Minneapolis for six years where he prosecuted white collar defendants, violent gangs, drug trafficking organizations and career criminals.

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He received graduated summa cum laude, from the University of Texas at Austin in 1998 and his J.D. from Yale Law School in 2002. He also served as a law clerk to Judge Paul Magnuson on the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota from 2002 to 2003.

Based on the findings of a judicial selection committee in the state, Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith recommended Bryan to the White House.

“Jeff Bryan is a widely respected member of the legal community and has dedicated his career to serving Minnesotans. As a former federal prosecutor and a current appellate judge with over two decades of legal experience, he is unquestionably qualified to serve as a U.S. District Court Judge,” said Klobuchar in a statement.

Smith called Bryan’s nomination “a testament to his considerable experience and commitment to the rule of law.”

With Bryan’s nomination and those of three others Thursday, Biden has nominated 180 candidates for the federal bench.