Good morning from Qatar where a young American team showed drive, but an inability to finish. Fair play and we look forward to seeing the team on home ground in 2026! Today’s matches feature Japan v. Croatia and Brazil v. South Korea.
Here’s what we are watching in politics this week:
In Washington, D.C…
1. Averting a Rail Shutdown
The Biden Administration and Congress averted a railroad strike that would have crippled the American economy. This was done by invoking the Railway Labor Act of 1926 which allowed the federal government to impose a contract on four of the twelve largest rail workers’ unions after they voted down the agreement. In a statement, President Joe Biden said, “The deal provides a historic 24% pay raise for rail workers. It provides improved health care benefits. And it provides the ability of operating craft workers to take unscheduled leave for medical needs.”
For the self-professed “most pro-union President in history”, the decision to intervene after the unions themselves rejected the agreement was met with a certain amount of consternation. One of the union leaders declared, “The ‘most labor-friendly president in history’ has proven that he and the Democratic Party are not the friends of labor they have touted themselves to be. These wolves in sheep’s clothing have for decades been in bed with corporate America and have allowed them to continue chipping away at the American middle class and organized labor.” Others called it a “betrayal.” AFL-CIO President Liz Schuler acknowledged the agreement left a lot to be desired, saying, “While rail workers won significant wage increases and other important gains today, it’s deeply disappointing that 43 senators sided with multibillion-dollar rail corporations to block desperately needed paid sick days.” Ultimately, the potential impact on the economy, as high as $2 billion a day according to some experts, took priority.
The main point of contention was around paid sick days, of which union rail workers currently have none. An amendment that would have guaranteed seven days of paid sick leave garnered bipartisan support, but still failed to meet the 60-vote threshold. Biden acknowledged that the agreement was far from perfect, particularly when it comes to paid leave, but he offered that every worker in America should have paid leave and suggested there could be more action to come. For now, Biden and his administration have the trains running on time.
Just weeks away from stepping down as the number two Democrat in the House, Rep. Steny Hoyer has continued to lead on budget negotiations. He remains optimistic that a spending deal can be reached, but the status of defense and non-defense spending totals are less than certain. On the domestic side, spending totals for healthcare, education, climate, social programs, and a number of other issues remain to be ironed out while on the defense side, appropriators still have to agree on support for Ukraine and how to financially combat an ascendant China. Republicans have already pushed back on the idea of large increases to domestic spending, but there does seem to be a consensus on the need for an omnibus spending deal rather than a year-long stopgap funding bill. An omnibus bill would give lawmakers room to negotiate priorities on both sides of the aisle while a stopgap funding bill would keep spending levels static through the upcoming fiscal year.
President Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris hosted Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to discuss the agenda for the lame-duck session. After the meeting, Schumer told reporters, “Leader McConnell and I have agreed to try and work together to make sure we get a yearlong funding bill done. We hope it can be done this year, and we know that each side is going to have to give in order to send an omnibus to the president’s desk, and, of course, it needs 60 votes.”
Those negotiations have impacted the usually “untouchable” National Defense Authorization Act, with Republicans threatening to stall or vote down the government spending bill if the vaccine mandate for members of the military is not dropped from the NDAA. Republicans would also like to see any spending increases go to defense rather than “continuing to request astronomical increases on the non-defense, domestic side” according to McConnell. On the House side, Kevin McCarthy has said he does not just want to hold discretionary spending at current levels. He wants to cut it below 2022 enacted levels. The Senate proposal allows for a 12% boost in domestic spending with a 9% increase in defense spending. The non-defense spending funds related areas like homeland security and veteran’s healthcare, but Republicans want at least commensurate increases. There is also the $85 billion emergency aid package that the Biden Administration has requested for dealing with natural disasters and providing Ukraine with humanitarian relief.
Should the two sides fail to come to an agreement on an omnibus package, the result would be the aforementioned yearlong stopgap funding bill which Speaker Pelosi called a “last resort.” While Democrats would obviously prefer an omnibus, a stopgap bill would at least provide critical government agencies with some stability heading into a Congress where they will no longer control the House. McCarthy was more cavalier at the prospect of failing to come to an agreement, saying “If we can’t get common sense in appropriation bills then yes, we’ll support a CR and fix this come January.”
The runoff election between Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) and Herschel Walker (R) for Georgia’s open Senate seat takes place on Tuesday. Given that Democrats already have the 50 votes needed for a majority, this race has received far less attention than it would have if the results would determine the balance of power. Still, the race has major implications for the power dynamic in the new Senate. A 51st Democratic vote would almost instantly strip Sen. Joe Manchin of the power he has enjoyed over the Democratic agenda and would make life easier for Schumer when confirming nominations and passing legislation. A 51-49 Senate would also allow Vice President Kamala Harris to travel and make more public appearances rather than being tied to DC during every Senate vote in case of a tie. There are other potential consequences, too: in an evenly split Senate, the amount of members from each side on a committee has to be the same. If Warnock wins, that would no longer be the case.
Polls have shown Warnock with a consistent lead, but Democrats are not taking any chances. President Obama, the most popular figure in current Democratic politics, was back in Georgia this past week to campaign for Warnock and warned voters against becoming complacent. Both President Biden and President Trump have stayed out of Georgia, with Biden likely not wanting to disrupt Warnock’s momentum and Trump, or at least Republicans, not wanting to risk making Walker even more unfavorable. Sen. Lindsey Graham has operated as the de facto spokesperson for Walker, making the case that it will be much easier for Republicans to win the Senate in 2024 if they win in Georgia.
4. Speaker Race
Current House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has yet to consolidate the support he needs if he is to be the future Speaker of the House. The Republican from Bakersfield, CA has no shortage of allies within his conference, but given the slim GOP majority, likely just 5 votes, a small coalition from the far right or the center could torpedo his bid for the Speakership. At least five members of his caucus have either explicitly stated or indicated that they would not be voting for McCarthy. Rep. Andy Biggs, who himself is a candidate, said “[Kevin McCarthy] doesn’t have the 218 votes necessary to become Speaker on January 3, 2023. I do not believe he will ever get to 218 votes, and I refuse to assist him in his effort to get those votes. In the end, I must concur with my constituents: it is time to make a change at the top of the House of Representatives. I cannot vote for the gentleman from California, Mr. McCarthy.”
McCarthy ally Rep. Don Bacon (R, Neb.) offered, “We’re going to do vote after vote after vote for Kevin”, suggesting that they are willing to go through multiple ballots until McCarthy’s critics see the effort is futile and eventually relent. In 1855, the speakership election took 2 months and 133 ballots to determine a winner. While it is unlikely to become that much of a fiasco, the House cannot organize itself or conduct official business until a speaker is elected, so the longer the fight goes on, the longer the Republicans will appear divided. Some members closer to the center have floated the idea of voting for a more moderate speaker, potentially even one who is not a member of Congress (yes, that is allowed), to demonstrate to the right wing of the party that for all their distaste towards McCarthy, it could be worse for them.
5. Primary Shake Up
Democrats approved a Biden-backed plan that would significantly reshape the order in which primary elections are held. The plan, formally approved by the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, allows for South Carolina to be the first state in the nation to vote on Feb. 3, followed by Nevada and New Hampshire on Feb. 6, Georgia on Feb. 13 and Michigan on Feb. 27. The only “no votes” came from Iowa and New Hampshire who are sure to put up a fight in an effort to maintain their prized statuses. The Republican New Hampshire Governor, Chris Sununu, said in a statement “For over 100 years, we have set the model for the rest of the country with consistently high voter turnout and accurate election results. It’s a terrible disservice by Democrats to try and strip Granite Staters of the First in the Nation status that they have worked hard and earned time and time again.” New Hampshire law does say that they must hold the first primary in the nation and Sununu has said he plans to keep it that way, regardless of the DNC decision. “The good news is that our primary will still be first and the nation will not be held to a substandard process dictated by Joe Biden and the Democrat Party.” If a state did go “rogue” and not abide by the calendar, the DNC could choose not to seat the state’s delegates at the convention and could even punish candidates for campaigning in a rogue state.
States that are early in the primary cycle enjoy inflated electoral importance and benefit from the millions of dollars spent by candidates and their campaigns as they try and get off to a hot start. Biden, who has indicated he is running again in 2024, has never performed particularly well in Iowa and New Hampshire. South Carolina, however, is widely seen as giving Biden the 2020 primary win he needed to catapult him to the White House after poor showings early on. The changes, which clearly would benefit Joe Biden more than anyone else, should also be read as a further sign the President is running again.
6. Office Space
The 74 freshman Members of Congress-elect gathered last week to choose their new office space. The order was determined by the tried-and-true method of picking slips from a hat numbered 1-73 (Rep.-elect Jonathan Jackson (D-Ill.) failed to show up and was given the last pick by default). Like high school all over again, Congress runs according to seniority and when it comes to offices, Freshmen get the last pick. Desirable offices that become available through retirement or electoral defeat are offered to more senior members before they become available to freshmen. In practice, that relegates most of the incoming members to either the Cannon or Longworth House Office Buildings while more senior members enjoy the newly built (1957) Rayburn House Office Building and its underground subway to the Capitol.
The newly released House Calendar for 2023 can be found here.
President Biden hosted a state dinner on Thursday for French President Emmanuel Macron and the menu had tempers boiling. Rather than thanking the White House for buying 200 of the State’s finest lobsters for the butter-poached lobster hors d’oeuvres, Maine lawmakers clawed back on Biden’s perceived shellfish hypocrisy. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine tweeted “If the Biden White House can prioritize purchasing 200 Maine lobsters for a fancy dinner, @POTUS should also take the time to meet with the Maine lobstermen his administration is currently regulating out of business.”
The Maine lobster industry is concerned that, in an effort to preserve the right whale (which now numbers less than 370 in the wild, apparently), the Biden administration has put cumbersome restrictions on lobster fishermen that are threatening their bottom line. Whole Foods announced last month that they would discontinue selling Maine Lobster after their fisheries were downgraded by two separate watchdog groups over sustainability concerns. Maine Senator Susan Collins tweeted “If Maine lobster is good enough for the White House to serve, it’s good enough for every seafood retailer — including Whole Foods — to sell.”
Since the November 8th Election, Governor Kathy Hochul has vetoed over 40 bills, the majority of which would have established various commissions to study issues such as affordable housing construction, juvenile incarceration rates, group homes, gambling, and fentanyl abuse. As we discussed last week, Hochul declared that the vetoes will save taxpayers $40 million and said, “Many of these studies are being undertaken by our agencies and departments already. And we can work with the legislature to make sure they understand, yes, we care about all of these issues in the studies they recommended.” The Legislature does maintain a veto-proof supermajority, meaning they have the numbers to override a veto from the Governor, but no efforts will be made on this legislation.
Still, there are roughly 100 bills still to be decided on before the December 31st deadline including the Grieving Families Act. The bill would update the process by which families can claim financial compensation in a wrongful death suit. The current system only allows for financial compensation to be determined by the economic loss that results from an individual’s death. Senator Brad Hoylman, the sponsor of the bill, recently wrote an Op-Ed on why the legislation is so important to him. Another consequential bill still in limbo is the Digital Fair Repair Act, which would require manufacturers to make repair and diagnostic information public to prevent large companies from having a monopoly over repair services. The Governor must also decide on the Contractor Registration bill, establishing a registration for contractors and subtractors engaged in public work. Another bill worth watching, is Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell and Senator Brad Hoylman’s bill requiring insurance coverage for pre-exposure prophylaxis and post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent HIV infection, which advocates say is an essential pillar in the fight to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York State.
2. Notable Departures
New York State Health Commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett, announced her resignation from the Hochul administration this week. Bassett was appointed just over a year ago to replace Howard Zucker and was Hochul’s first major appointment as Governor. In a statement, Bassett said, “This was a very difficult decision. I have tremendous admiration for the work our staff has done during a very difficult year responding to COVID, mpox, polio and the day-to-day challenges of protecting New Yorkers’ health. I am leaving now so the next commissioner can have the chance to lead this great department for a full 4-year term under the leadership of Gov. Hochul.”
Bassett’s departure follows a string of recent resignations or planned leaves from the Hochul administration. Shelia Poole, the head of the Office of Children and Families Services, announced in November she would be stepping down at the end of the year. Similarly, longtime state budget czar Robert Mujica is leaving at the end of the year to head Puerto Rico’s Financial Management and Oversight Board. You can expect a few more departures from senior staff and agency leads, possibly even State Operations Director Kathryn Garcia, as Governor Hochul settles into her first elected term.
December 5, 1933
Prohibition ends in the U.S. when the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified, 18th Amendment repealed.
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