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Happy Wednesday morning.
Sen. Bernie Sanders isn’t going to stop with Howard Schultz and Starbucks.
The newly empowered chairman of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee — the most progressive Senate committee chair in recent history, if not ever — wants to use the panel to go after executives at Amazon, Walmart, Moderna and other mega-corporations that have long been in his crosshairs.
In an interview in his Senate office, Sanders detailed a dramatic shift in focus for a panel that’s spent the bulk of its time responding to the Covid-19 pandemic during the last few years. And Sanders says that while he’s keeping Majority Leader Chuck Schumer apprised of his efforts, he’s not seeking permission to carry out his agenda.
“My politics are a bit different than other [committee] leaders,” Sanders said. “Now is the time to deal with some of the structural, long-term crises that we face.”
On the substance, Sanders’ efforts are targeting what he sees as systemic problems in America — ones he talked about endlessly during his two presidential campaigns. Corporate greed, income inequality, high prescription drug prices, anti-union activities and more.
Sanders’ tactics appear to be working so far. Sanders first invited and then threatened to subpoena Schultz to testify about the company’s history of labor violations (including a a ruling just last week). Schultz initially declined to comply, and Starbucks offered to send another executive instead. But when it became clear that Sanders had the votes to issue a subpoena, Schultz relented. Schultz is now slated to testify on March 29 about the company’s labor practices, which Sanders has described as illegal and “union-busting.” AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, SEIU President May Kay Henry and Teamsters President Sean O’Brien will testify today.
The HELP Committee is also going to hear from Stéphane Bancel, the CEO of Moderna, on March 22. Sanders called Moderna “the poster child for pharmaceutical company greed, but surely not the only company.”
“This is going to be a series of efforts to try to do what the American people absolutely want us to do,” Sanders said. “They want us to lower the cost of prescription drugs. Mr. Bancel will go first, but he will not be the last.”
Sanders isn’t worried that his efforts could cause problems for vulnerable Democrats up for reelection in 2024. Sanders said it’ll actually be an “asset” for those Democrats.
“If I say that I’m going to be aggressive at lowering the cost of prescription drugs, you think that’s politically popular?
“I say that at a time when unions are today more popular than they’ve been in a very long time, I say that I’m gonna take on corporations that are breaking the law — is that popular enough? I say I want to expand health care — is that popular? If I say I want to make higher education tuition-free, at least community colleges, is that popular?”
That translates to much more than simply going after corporate executives — though he’ll be doing plenty of that. It also means trying to pass some of his long-standing priorities, such as raising the minimum wage or enacting Medicare for All. Sanders is candid about the prospects for these agenda items.
“I don’t have the votes here in the Senate, obviously,” Sanders said of Medicare for All. “I have no Republican support and half the Democrats won’t support it. That’s the reality.”
But he’s previewing a different approach on the minimum wage issue this time. Sanders previously tried in 2021 to boost the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. Sanders believes that with inflation, it should be closer to $17 or $18 per hour.
Sanders, though, is vowing to start off in the committee with a number that’s as high as he can go to win the requisite support. That could mean accepting something closer to $10 per hour.
When asked about his own political future, Sanders told us he’s still undecided on whether to run for reelection in 2024. Sanders would be 83 years old on Election Day.
Sanders also reiterated his support for President Joe Biden’s reelection, lauding him for helping shepherd the American Rescue Plan his first year in office. Sanders called it “one of the largest, most consequential pieces of legislation maybe in the modern history of this country” and said he appreciates that Biden was able to “think big” even though he’s more conservative than Sanders.
In other Senate news: Senate leaders reached a time agreement to vote today on Danny Werfel’s nomination to be the IRS commissioner.
The Senate will also vote on the GOP-authored disapproval resolution to block changes to the D.C. criminal code. This will be a blowout, especially after Biden and Schumer both declared their support.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has a big day, too.The panel will again vote on Eric Garcetti’s nomination to serve as U.S. ambassador to India. Senators are also expected to approve a bipartisan bill to repeal the Iraq war authorizations as the anniversary of the 2003 invasion approaches.
— Andrew Desiderio and John Bresnahan
Happy International Women’s Day! Later this month, Punchbowl News founder Anna Palmer will discuss women’s access to healthcare with House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) on Thursday, March 23 at 9 a.m. ET. RSVP!
PRESENTED BY ALIBABA
American businesses of all sizes, such as Emily’s Chocolates, Fender, and Instinct Pet Food, sell their products to over one billion consumers in China on Alibaba. In 2021, American brands made sales of $61 billion on Alibaba’s platforms. These sales supported 390,000 U.S. jobs and $31 billion in wages for American employees.
REPUBLICAN VS. REPUBLICAN
McCarthy, McConnell split over Tucker Carlson and Jan. 6
Tuesday was a case study in the diverging priorities of the two top Republicans on Capitol Hill – and the ongoing GOP battle over former President Donald Trump.
On the House side, Speaker Kevin McCarthy defended his decision to give Fox News host Tucker Carlson access to 41,000 hours of security camera video footage from the Jan. 6 insurrection. Carlson used that access to present a completely false claim that the attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters – an unprecedented effort to block the certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory – was a largely peaceful protest.
When pressed by reporters over his decision to allow Carlson to use the videos in such a fashion, McCarthy defended it: “I said at the very beginning – transparency. What I wanted to produce for everyone was exactly what I said so people could look at it and see what went on that day.”
Yet Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sided with the U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger in upbraiding Carlson and Fox News.
During the weekly Senate GOP press conference, McConnell held up a copy of a memo that Manger sent to his officers on Tuesday criticizing Carlson’s show. McConnell backed Manger:
“It was a mistake, in my view, for Fox News to depict [Jan. 6] in a way that’s completely at variance with what our chief law enforcement official here in the Capitol thinks.”
We later asked McConnell about McCarthy, specifically whether he was criticizing the speaker for allowing Carlson free rein over the security videos. “No, I criticized the decision by the Fox Corporation to portray this incorrectly,” McConnell said.
McCarthy, for his part, told us he “didn’t see” McConnell holding up Manger’s memo in front of TV cameras.
McConnell and McCarthy have long found themselves on opposite sides of the Trump divide. McCarthy and his allies sought out Trump’s support to help him become speaker in January. Meanwhile, Trump has viciously attacked McConnell during the last two years for accurately saying that Biden won the 2020 election, even urging GOP senators to oust the Kentucky Republican.
This year, McCarthy has assumed the role of top Republican on the Hill thanks to the House GOP victory in November. Several Trump-backed Senate candidates went down to defeat in the midterms, of course, leaving McConnell in the minority.
McConnell noted in January that McCarthy and Biden must now take the lead in resolving the upcoming dispute over the debt limit and federal spending. “I wish him well in talking to the president,” McConnell said at the time.
GOP members and senators admit that McCarthy and McConnell are in different places politically, but they downplayed any suggestion of a wide gulf between the two men.
“I don’t think there’s a big split,” insists House Rules Committee Chair Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a key McCarthy ally. “They both reflect the different chambers they operate in and the different political realities that they face.”
“I would look at it as two leaders doing their best to do what they think their conference would find acceptable,” added Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). “They both have to work with different personalities and so forth, but there’s a whole lot more in common.”
McConnell has largely tried to keep Jan. 6 in the rearview mirror, recognizing that it’s generally pretty bad for Republicans when it’s in the headlines. When McConnell was asked about the issue while the Jan. 6 select committee was publicizing its findings, he routinely declined to give any substantive response.
As for McConnell and McCarthy, the two meet with relative frequency in order to touch gloves over policy and politics, but their relationship isn’t warm. “Professional” would be a better way of describing their interactions, according to GOP lawmakers.
And McCarthy world won’t directly concede this, but the California Republican has long had a rocky relationship with Carlson. Some allies saw McCarthy’s decision to give Carlson access to the Jan. 6 videos as a peace offering of sorts with the powerful cable news host.
Yet the controversy over the Jan. 6 videos is also playing out as Fox and Carlson face an enormous P.R. disaster thanks to Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against the cable network. Internal Fox communications released as part of the lawsuit repeatedly show Carlson other Fox hosts disparaging Trump and admitting his claims of a stolen election were false.
“I hate him passionately,” Carlson said of Trump in a Jan. 4, 2021, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday. “We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights.”
— John Bresnahan, Andrew Desiderio and Jake Sherman
THE BATTLE FOR THE NEW FBI HQ
Virginia senators push for FBI HQ, embrace equity
The competition between Maryland and Virginia to host the new FBI headquarters is heating up this week. Today, Maryland will make its case to the General Services Administration and FBI, followed by Virginia’s presentation on Thursday.
We sat down with Virginia Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner on Tuesday to hear their pitch for the new HQ. Unsurprisingly, both pointed to the Virginia proposed site’s proximity to the FBI’s existing facility in Quantico as a major benefit. But the Virginians also brought up the GSA’s equity criteria unprompted — an issue that Maryland’s advocates have tried to lead on.
“This Springfield part of Fairfax [County] is like a United Nations. It is as diverse as it comes,” Kaine told us. “This is the first time equity has been considered at all and we embrace it.”
“Springfield itself is a majority-minority community,” Warner added, citing the large Black, Muslim, Asian American and minority communities in the area. “I think it’s important for the future workforce of the FBI.”
The Virginia senators claim they have an advantage on all five criteria GSA is considering. Kaine said because the federal government already owns the Springfield site, the location would save the government money. Plus, the site is close to a Metro stop and other modes of public transportation.
Out of the five criteria for the GSA’s consideration of the new headquarters, proximity to the FBI Academy in Quantico is weighted significantly more than the others, including equity. The Marylanders are furious about this and they claim it unfairly benefits the Old Dominion State.
But Kaine and Warner said it’s simply an important factor.
“It really does help significantly if the FBI headquarters can be located close to other FBI and other national security assets,” Kaine told us. “This proximity to Quantico is very, very helpful because there’s so much FBI activity there.”
Virginia is also home to the FBI’s Central Records Complex in Winchester, Va., and a number of intelligence agencies, Warner added.
Kaine said upset Marylanders shouldn’t bash their rival state when it comes to the decision-making process.
“The GSA and the FBI came up with five criteria. Marylanders didn’t write them and Virginians didn’t write them,” Kaine said.
“We are happy to go toe to toe on all five of the criteria, including equity,” Warner said.
Happening today: The Maryland congressional delegation is holding a press conference after their presentation to GSA. For more on the Maryland argument, check out our interview with Maryland Gov. Wes Moore from last week.
— Max Cohen
PRESENTED BY ALIBABA
Bob’s Red Mill expands global sales by selling on Alibaba’s platforms to reach increasingly health-conscious Chinese consumers, supporting its growth in Milwaukie, Oregon.
W.H. plans two moves in the leg affairs shop
News: Ashley Jones, a veteran of Democratic leadership, will take over as the White House’s top House liaison, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.
Shuwanza Goff, a well-respected former aide to Steny Hoyer, left the Biden administration for a lobbying job last month. Jones is replacing Goff.
Jones worked for then-Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) when he was the assistant speaker of the House in 2019 and 2020. The longtime aide to former Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.) also did stints in Rep. Brad Schneider’s (D-Ill.) office and with the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Jones is currently a special assistant in the White House legislative affairs shop.
Jones is well-respected by House members and several Democrats we spoke with are thrilled by the news, calling her “the best in the business” and an “operations beast.”
“Ashley Jones is a true veteran of the House. She has been by my side as a trusted adviser over the years and she’s going to be a great partner moving forward,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee,
Separately, Lee Slater – also a House veteran who was a top aide to Rep. Richie Neal (D-Mass.) – will take Chris Slevin’s position as deputy director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs. Slevin is now Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo’s chief of staff.
Here’s what one high-ranking House Democratic leadership aide told us: “The promotion of Ashley and Lee is a smart move for the White House. They are respected and trusted by Members and staff, and understand how to actually get things done. They are pros.”
And a House Republican leadership aide said this of Jones. Yes, a Republican:
“She’s solid – she’s tough as hell, doesn’t put up with bullshit, but she has a history of protecting Democrat members in tough districts – their majority makers – and has a keen eye for knowing what’s going to hurt or help those members. There may be some growing pains in a post-Shuwanza Goff world, but she’s the best chance they’ve got.”
– Jake Sherman, John Bresnahan and Heather Caygle
News: Problem Solvers Caucus adds 24 new members
The Problem Solvers Caucus is adding 24 new members to the bipartisan coalition, including 18 freshmen. The group now boasts 63 total members, an increase from 58 last Congress.
The caucus, led by Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), played a central role in the House’s passage of the bipartisan infrastructure law in 2021. The group also was involved in the CHIPS Act and the bipartisan gun reform legislation adopted in the 117th Congress.
Here’s a list of the 24 new members — 12 Democrats and Republicans each – joining the Problem Solvers’ ranks.
Reps. Ed Case (D-Hawaii), Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), Susie Lee (D-Nev.) and Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.) are the group’s vice chairs. Reps. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) and Jared Golden (D-Maine) will serve as the caucus whips.
Check out the full membership list here.
— Max Cohen
PRESENTED BY ALIBABA
Explore Alibaba’s impact on the U.S. economy.
9:30 a.m.: President Joe Biden will get his daily intelligence briefing.
10 a.m.: Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) will hold a news conference about the East Palestine, Ohio, train hearing. … House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, Reps. Julia Letlow (R-La.) and John Duarte (R-Calif.) will hold a news conference
10:45 a.m.: House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar will hold a news conference.
12:30 p.m.: Karine Jean-Pierre will brief.
Editorial photos provided by Getty Images.
PRESENTED BY ALIBABA
Thousands of American businesses partner with Alibaba to sell their products to over 1 billion consumers in China. In fact, U.S. sales to Chinese consumers on Alibaba supported 390,000 U.S. jobs, $31 billion in American wages, and added $47 billion to the U.S. GDP.
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