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Happy Thursday morning.
An epic legislative and corporate battle is brewing on Capitol Hill, pitting lawmakers against each other — regardless of party affiliation — on an issue with far-reaching implications in Congress’ backyard.
The top two senators on the Senate Commerce Committee, Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), are working on an amendment to the annual FAA reauthorization bill that would pave the way to additional flights out of Washington Reagan National Airport outside the 1,250-mile perimeter.
Cantwell and Cruz are looking to insert this amendment into the bill, which must pass by Sept. 30 and is being marked up in the committee later today.
All four senators from the DMV strongly oppose such an expansion, arguing it would spur delays, longer lines and cause further unpleasant noise in Northern Virginia.
And these senators are threatening to stop the bill dead in its tracks if the provision is included — throwing yet another must-pass measure into doubt as Congress is already staring down a potential government shutdown in the same timeframe.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the state’s senior senator, suggested that if the DCA provision is included in the FAA bill, it would jeopardize the entire package. So, too, did Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who called it a “poison pill” and said every tactic is on the table to defeat it.
“My understanding is there will be an amendment, and we are urging our colleagues to vote against it. Because the airport is already bursting at the seams,” Van Hollen told us. “It will create big trouble for this bill if that provision is added.”
None of the DMV-area senators sit on the Commerce Committee, where there’s broad bipartisan support for the expansion. But in the Senate, where unanimous consent is required to move anything quickly, the Marylanders and Virginians could grind the process to a halt as the Sept. 30 deadline approaches.
“This has been well-litigated. The last time this issue came up in a major way, we didn’t get an FAA bill for years. We need a new FAA bill. This was a commitment that was made for the DMV 30 years ago. It also was the reasoning behind things like the expansion of Metro to Dulles. I think we’ve struck the right balance, and that’s where I hope we stay.”
Joining Cruz and Cantwell on the other side of this fight is Delta Air Lines, which has supported a group pushing the changes to the 1,250-mile perimeter. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) — who represents Delta’s fortress hub in Atlanta — has been particularly active on this issue, as has Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.).
“Expanding the number of flights into and out of Reagan Airport … would make traveling to our nation’s capital more convenient for Americans, particularly in the western part of the United States,” Cruz told us. “There is significant agreement across the aisle. Both Democrats and Republicans are working to expand direct flights into and out of Reagan Airport.”
Wednesday night, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) took up the cause, saying United Airlines, which opposes the expansion proposal, was doing so simply to protect its major hub at Dulles.
In addition to United, Alaska Airlines and American Airlines are also aligned with the DMV-area lawmakers in opposition.
On Wednesday, the chief executives of those carriers issued a rare joint statement opposing the relaxation of the perimeter, and noted that pushing for this provision “endangers timely passage of critical FAA reauthorization legislation to improve the safety and efficiency of air travel for the entire system.”
For what it’s worth, this puts Cruz at odds with United, which has a huge presence in Houston, and Fort Worth-based American, but he told us that the existing regulations in the DMV area are “outdated” and “protectionist.”
In a Washington Post op-ed, Kaine, Warner, Van Hollen and Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin vowed to fight the expansion effort “with everything we’ve got.”
For now, that doesn’t appear to be deterring the Commerce Committee, where senators seem poised to back Cruz’s position.
The impacts here are, indeed, massive for the airline industry and Washington area travel. Congress has slowly chipped away at the 1,250-mile perimeter, which was put in place to protect Dulles and its long-haul flights, which are primarily operated by United.
As of now, DCA passengers can fly to Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Ore., Las Vegas, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Denver, San Juan, Austin and Denver — all outside the perimeter.
But proponents of lifting the perimeter restriction and adding slots for long-haul flights say DCA needs service to places like San Diego and San Antonio, large sprawling metropolises without direct service from Reagan.
To be sure, this is a super wonky and unusual policy fight that is transcending party lines; but it’s threatening to derail yet another critical agenda item for Congress come September.
— Andrew Desiderio and Jake Sherman
TODAY: There’s still time to RSVP to join us in person or on the livestream at 9 a.m. ET for Punchbowl News Managing Editor Heather Caygle’s conversation with Rep. John Joyce (R-Pa.). They’ll discuss healthcare innovation and the future of cancer research following the Inflation Reduction Act.
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Sparks fly in Appropriations, previewing spending fights
Remember when House leadership said that the debt-limit deal would restore the normal appropriations process? It doesn’t look like that’s happening.
The House Appropriations Committee — the nerve center for federal spending — erupted into chaos Wednesday evening during a meeting in which they were supposed to codify the funding levels for each spending bill. The conversation got so heated that Republicans recessed the meeting to 8 a.m. today.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), railed against Republicans deciding to mark up the spending bills to 2022 levels instead of the compromise agreed to in the debt-limit deal.
“What the hell is the point of making a deal if you’re then told, ‘Oh, well, that was the ceiling on the deal. What we really want is a lot less,’” Hoyer, who has served on the committee for 24 years, said in a heated back-and-forth with Republicans.
The backstory here is that Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden agreed to a budget cap for FY2024 spending. But, under pressure from conservatives, McCarthy said the Appropriations Committee is free to mark bills to FY2022 levels, claiming that a “budget cap” is a ceiling, not a floor. Caps are generally understood on Capitol Hill to be funding levels — not a maximum spending threshold.
The committee, led by Texas GOP Rep. Kay Granger, is marking the bills to FY2022 levels despite the outcry from Democrats.
Remember, this would equal a cut of around $120 billion compared to the agreed upon caps in the debt-limit deal. And it will set up a huge battle with the Senate, where members of both parties were already grumbling about the caps.
“I don’t think that would have much support in the Senate among Democrats or Republicans,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said this week when asked about the House plan.
But Rep. Andy Harris (Md.), the top Republican on the subcommittee that handles agriculture spending, said McCarthy was clear in describing the deal. Here’s Harris:
“I would also suggest that [Hoyer] should have listened to Mr. McCarthy as he spoke about the negotiation. Because the president didn’t. Mr. McCarthy was speaking bluntly about it.
“He said we will not spend more in fiscal year ‘24 than we spend in fiscal year ‘23. He didn’t talk about budget allocations. He said total spending. Now the American public — we can try to fool the American public with smoke and mirrors and pretend, but the speaker was clear.”
This is important for a few reasons. Appropriations is generally a place where the two parties get along. They aren’t even close to getting along right now. This foreshadows no bipartisan cooperation on crafting appropriations bills. And it speaks to the dynamic we described in Wednesday AM’s edition — that a government shutdown is a real possibility.
Upon recessing the meeting, Granger turned to Harris and said, “It really was unbelievable,” referring to the Democrats’ complaints.
— Jake Sherman
Top Republicans skeptical about alleged Biden bribery tapes
On Monday, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) took to the Senate floor to share what he considered a significant development in the controversy surrounding the alleged Joe Biden bribery scandal. The FBI allegedly redacted information from a tip sheet, Grassley said, that claimed there were audio recordings of conversations between Biden, Hunter Biden and a Burisma executive that allegedly bribed the two Bidens.
It was a major assertion from Grassley, who says he has seen the unredacted FD-1023 tip sheet that House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) successfully subpoenaed for. But Comer isn’t rushing to back up Grassley on this point.
We asked the Kentucky Republican how confident he was that these audio recordings between the Bidens and the Burisma executive actually exist.
“I don’t know that I can answer that right now,” Comer told us. “I would talk to Grassley about it. All I know is it was in the form. That’s all I can say. But the FBI didn’t mention it when they briefed on it.”
Comer isn’t the only Republican steeped in the investigation world that is urging caution on the alleged tapes. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who authored a Senate report on Hunter Biden along with Grassley, told a radio host this week that the claims of tapes should be considered “with a grain of salt.”
“This could be coming from a very corrupt oligarch who could be making this stuff up,” Johnson said on the Vicki McKenna Show. “You have to suspend your judgment until you know more.”
Oversight Democrats, predictably, seized on the uncertainty over the tapes and said it was proof Republicans know the uncorroborated bribery allegations aren’t true.
“I actually think they either know that [the tapes] don’t exist or they know that they will never get them,” Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) told us. “Instead, what they’re doing is using the veiled reference to them to make allegations that will never be able to be proved or disproved, because they’re not going to find them.”
Ranking Member Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) cited his familiar refrain when discussing the FD-1023: former President Donald Trump’s DOJ already looked into this and didn’t pursue charges.
“They checked it out and there was nothing there. I don’t know what we can say about it other than Trump’s own Justice Department and FBI team looked into it,” Raskin said.
Republicans contest that the FD-1023 was referred to the U.S. attorney for the District of Delaware’s probe of Hunter Biden. But Democrats say this investigation focuses on Hunter Biden’s tax and gun charges, not Joe Biden’s conduct.
— Max Cohen
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Buck calls for calm on Mayorkas impeachment
As the House Republican Conference moves forward in its effort to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, there’s one House Judiciary Committee member who’s taking a different tact.
Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), who sits on the panel where a potential Mayorkas impeachment will originate, said “it’s a little premature to say anything at this point” regarding the DHS secretary’s impeachment.
“I want to see the evidence and look at the standard and make a decision,” Buck told us.
Buck’s reticence shows that there are still some dissenting opinions within the conference. Moderate Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), for one, is one of the few Republicans who’s come out against impeaching Mayorkas. And Judiciary GOP Reps. Tom Tiffany (Wis.) and Tom McClintock (Calif.) have publicly expressed hesitancy toward impeaching Mayorkas as well.
Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) said he was more concerned about other issues at DHS rather than Mayorkas himself.
“I’m looking at it through the lens that a lot of people are leaving DHS,” Gonzales told us. “I know other people have other different agendas. I don’t have a district where I can go up there and just grandstand and blame Mayorkas for everything that’s wrong in the world.”
Buck’s stance isn’t one shared by many of his House Republican colleagues, who for the most part appear convinced that Mayorkas’ handling of the U.S.-Mexico border is grounds for impeachment.
“We can move as fast as they want, as long as the evidence is presented in some sort of way and [Mayorkas] has a chance to rebut it,” Buck added.
House conservatives have signaled more serious steps in recent weeks to hold Mayorkas accountable for what they say is an intentional neglect of security protocols at the southern border.
Homeland Security Committee Chair Mark Green (R-Tenn.) launched the first phase of his “five-phase accountability plan” on Wednesday, which will investigate several areas of the DHS and Mayorkas’ job performance.
Green, who said his investigation would likely be complete in about 11-12 weeks, will later hand off his findings to the Judiciary panel, which oversees impeachment.
“What we’re doing is gathering information. So far, there’s about 10 laws that have been subverted or broken, two court rulings completely ignored, two lies at least to Congress, 58 lies to the American people. I mean, the list goes on and on,” Green told us.
But some House Republicans are growing impatient. And some have raised vocal frustrations over the three-month timeline laid out by Green on his investigation — and that’s even before it gets to Judiciary.
“He should’ve already been impeached,” Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) told us of Mayorkas.
Rep. Eli Crane (R-Ariz.), who co-sponsored Rep. Andy Biggs’ (R-Ariz.) articles of impeachment against Mayorkas earlier this year, said he wants “to move as fast as humanly possible.”
Rep. Morgan Luttrell (R-Texas) said he understands the pace of Congress is slow but would love to see things move faster. He said he supports impeaching Mayorkas right now.
“I wish it could happen tomorrow,” Luttrell said.
Homeland Security Committee Ranking Member Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said Republicans’ efforts to impeach Mayorkas is a “sham.”
“The extreme MAGA Republicans running their conference have no legitimate argument for impeaching the Secretary, who is simply enforcing border and immigration laws in an orderly, humane way, consistent with prior administrations of both parties,” Thompson said in a statement.
Of course, because Democrats control the Senate, there’s no realistic chance Mayorkas will be convicted in the chamber — even if the House musters the votes. And with a number of must-pass bills up for a vote this fall, we’ll be closely tracking if centrist Republicans are willing to spend valuable floor time on an impeachment that’s going nowhere.
— Max Cohen and Mica Soellner
THE MONEY GAME
Goldman moves his bagel game to the fundraising circuit
Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) is a well-known lover of bagels. His district, which cuts a swath through lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, does in fact have some good “bagelries.”
Goldman’s weakness, of course, is that he refuses to discuss the upside of D.C. bagels. This is a weakness that will continue to plague him as he tries to climb the ladder in Washington, or, should we be so presumptuous, attempts a run for governor or senator one day.
Goldman’s journey with bagels has been a curious one. First, he launched the Bagel Caucus, which was made up of only members and closed to reporters. This was not in the spirit of the House of Representatives — we treasure openness — and we protested. Goldman’s staff opened it up to Capitol Hill denizens — reporters and aides alike — and we were able to sample small wedges of New York bagels. Fair enough, we supposed.
Now, Goldman is looking to turn his love for D.C. bagels into a cash cow. The New Yorker — a Yale alum, whose opinion on New Haven pizza we will seek soon — is hosting a “New York Bagel Breakfast” this morning in Washington. Goldman does not accept corporate PAC money, so this event — $500 to $5,000 — will have to come from a leadership PAC or out of an individual’s pocket.
Please let us know how this goes. Media is not welcome.
— Jake Sherman
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9:30 a.m.: President Joe Biden will get his daily intelligence briefing.
10 a.m.: House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries will hold his weekly news conference.
1:45 p.m.: Biden will speak about junk fees.
7:45 p.m.: The Bidens will host a screening of “Flamin’ Hot.”
“Hoping to Avert Nuclear Crisis, U.S. Seeks Informal Agreement With Iran,” by Michael Crowley in D.C., Farnaz Fassihi in New York and Ronen Bergman in Tel Aviv
“Trump rejected lawyers’ efforts to avoid classified documents indictment,” by Josh Dawsey and Jacqueline Alemany
“Bond Traders Step Up Bets the Fed Will Steer US Economy Into Recession,” by Michael Mackenzie and Carter Johnson
Editorial photos provided by Getty Images.
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Designing 100% recyclable plastic bottles – we’re making our bottles from PET that’s strong, lightweight and easy to recycle.
Investing in community recycling – we’re marshalling the equivalent of nearly a half-billion dollars with The Recycling Partnership and Closed Loop Partners to support community recycling programs where we can have the greatest impact.
Raising awareness – we’re adding on-pack reminders to encourage consumers to recycle our plastic bottles and caps.
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