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It’s complicated: What’s next for Hakeem Jeffries and Kevin McCarthy’s relationship
Plus: News and notes on Biden’s meeting with the CBC, new legislation on background checks and paid family leave and the latest on the debt ceiling.
👋🏾 Hi, hey, hello! Welcome back to Supercreator, your guide to the politicians, power brokers and policies shaping how online creators and their fans work and live in the new economy. Happy Black History Month! It’s been a wild week in politics so let’s just get to it.
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A lot has been made about the amicable relationship between Speaker Kevin McCarthy and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries at the outset of the new Congress. (The two leaders reportedly text each other!)
“With respect to Speaker McCarthy, our conversations have been generally productive,” Jeffries told reporters on Thursday morning. “We agree to disagree at times without being disagreeable.”
Perhaps this is why it was interesting to hear the top House Democrat during the same press conference tell us that McCarthy’s decision to unilaterally remove Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell of California from the Intelligence Committee and put a resolution to dismiss Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from the Foreign Affairs Committee would strain the relationship moving forward between House Democrats and House Republicans.
“The notion that it won’t complicate things would not be intellectually honest,” Jeffries said to me when I asked him to explain in detail what he meant. “Because there’s a double standard at play.”
Speaker McCarthy, of course, disagrees with this notion. And I’ll say more about that in a moment.
But let’s talk about the vote to oust Omar from Foreign Affairs, in case you missed the chaos.
The vote was 218-211 along party lines and culminates a sustained campaign from McCarthy, who dating back to Omar’s first term in 2019 had promised to kick her off Foreign Affairs when House Republicans reclaimed the majority and if he ascended to the speakership for past antisemitic comments that she’s made in the past and since apologized for.
Democrats saw McCarthy’s promise as retaliation after Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona were removed from their committees in 2021 in bipartisan floor votes. If you recall, Gosar posted a photoshopped anime video to social media that showed him appearing to kill Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and attacking President Joe Biden. Greene was removed after a Facebook post calling for Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi to be executed and a video resurfaced of her harassing gun-control activist David Hogg shortly after he survived the 2018 Parkland mass shooting.
Jeffries said Omar’s comments were condemned by House Democratic leadership immediately after she made them while top House Republicans not only failed to do so for their controversial members but rewarded them with plum committee assignments. (Greene now sits on Homeland Security and Gosar was assigned to Natural Resources; they both also received spots on the Oversight Committee.)
“There has been accountability. Ilhan Omar has apologized. She has indicated that she'll learn from her mistakes, is working to build bridges because we believe in building bridges, not walls,” Jeffries said. “This is not about accountability. It’s about political revenge.” To that end, Omar backed a pro-Israel resolution ahead of the vote that recognized the middle eastern country as “America’s legitimate and democratic ally and condemning antisemitism.”
In a floor speech ahead of the vote, Omar spoke in defiance of the perceived retribution for the different perspective, point of view and lived experience she brings to the committee as the first African-born member to serve in Congress and one of the first two Muslim women to be elected to the body.
She added that the role of the committee is to realize the myth that American foreign policy is intrinsically moral, as opposed to an uncritical co-sign of the executive branch’s foreign policy.
“They see me as a powerful voice that needs to be silenced,” Omar said of her Republican critics. “When you push power, power pushes back.”
McCarthy, on the other hand, said House Republicans demonstrated restraint against Schiff, Swalwell and Omar and that Democrats are attempting to compare apples and oranges: House Democrats removed Greene for comments she made before she was a sitting member of Congress, the speaker claimed. And they banned her and Gosar from serving on any other committees.
“I’m not removing people from all committees. I’m not judging something someone said when they’re not a member of Congress,” McCarthy said. “If it was tit-for-tat, we would have picked people, took them off all committees, and said nothing about it. We don’t believe in that.”
Meanwhile, the vote represented an early win for McCarthy after his leadership team mobilized a whip operation that targeted Rep. Nancy Mace, who with Republican Reps. Ken Buck of Colorado and Victoria Spartz of Indiana were previously opposed to removing Omar from the committee, but switched their positions after receiving commitments from McCarthy that the House would update how it removes members from their assignments in the future.
Mace told reporters members would be referred to the House Ethics Committee going forward before a resolution to dismiss them from their panels.
“I will be a yes because I received this commitment,” she said. “For me it was a vote of conscience and ensuring that you that I use my voice to preserve the institution,” while adding McCarthy had the votes without hers to unseat Omar from the committee.
For what it’s worth, Rep. Susan Wild, the top House Democrat on the Ethics Committee noted that the appeals process Mace spoke of would only happen after a full House vote and that to restore Omar’s Foreign Affairs assignment would require a vote from the same members who voted to remove her in the first place.
“There's an appellate process, not due process,” Republican Rep. Michael Guest of Mississippi said.
For now, Omar has been reassigned to the House Budget Committee. And she will also look to make an impact through a US-Africa task force she announced last week that will hold regular briefings with White House officials, non-governmental organizations, journalists and stakeholders on the various urgent crises in Africa.
“My critique of our foreign policy, Israeli’s policy towards Palestinians or that of any foreign nation will not change,” Omar posted in a tweet yesterday. “As a person who suffered the horrors of war and persecution, my advocacy will always be for those that suffer because of the actions of governments.”
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Something’s got to give in the debt ceiling debate: Speaker McCarthy and House conservatives have concluded that the only way to extract deep disinvestments from federal programs is to tie them to legislation that sets the amount of money the government can borrow to pay its bills.
Congressional Democrats and President Biden reject the premise as a political ploy designed to distract or confuse voters from the reality that paying the debt ceiling and negotiating the next federal budget are two unrelated pursuits.
“The distinction for me is that these are debts that have already been incurred. So we’re not talking about future spending. We’re talking about bills that we already owe,” Democratic Rep. Shontel Brown of Ohio said to Supercreator on Wednesday. “So while they continue to try to benefit the wealthy and the well-connected, we’re just trying to maintain our credit rating, protect hard-working Americans and make sure that we don’t default on our credit.”
Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said that he and his colleagues are forcefully calling out the other side because there’s an enormous economic risk when Social Security and Medicare are used as bargaining chips as some House conservatives have proposed, despite McCarthy committing to leaving cuts to the popular earned benefits off the table last week.
“So we just need to make sure that he’s a person of his word,” Thompson told Supercreator. “And so if it’s de-linking or whatever, that’s fine.”
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer doubled down this week on the argument that what’s worse than House Republicans threatening to hold the debt ceiling hostage in exchange for disinvestments in the social safety net is that they’ve yet to put a plan forward for which programs they would shrink or eliminate altogether. Republicans said that they will offer their budget after the president submits his next month.
At the end of the day though, as Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has reiterated, this is an impasse that will likely have to be resolved by McCarthy and Biden. The two leaders met this week at the White House and traded pleasantries after the conversation. They also agreed to lock in the logistics of their next meeting in the next few days.
The trouble for the speaker is that whatever agreement he reaches would satisfy the so-called moderates of his conference while displeasing the conservatives, a math problem that could jeopardize an ultimate deal if McCarthy misplays the already poor hand he’s been dealt. FWIW, this Tennessee House conservative, said to Manu Raju that there’s no scenario they’d vote to raise the debt ceiling and that the’s ready to go “over the cliff”: “I voted to shut it down under Trump as well. I think we were reckless then and we’re gonna be reckless again and it will never stop.”
The debate over whether and how the country should pay its bills that House Republicans are hoping to force is pulling members away from issues like voting rights and reproductive justice and the implementation of the signature laws the president signed last year.
“Rather than playing these theatrical games, I would much rather be focused on that,” Rep. Brown said.
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President Biden and Vice President on Thursday hosted the members of the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss the future of policing in America in the aftermath of the Tyre Nichols killing earlier this month.
“We have an agreement on how we will continue to work forward both from a legislative standpoint as well as executive and community based solutions,” CBC Chairman Steven Horsford said after the nearly two-hour meeting. “But the focus will always be on public safety, public safety for all communities.”
Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia was more succinct in his commentary: “I think I speak for a whole lot of Americans say that we're sick and tired of human beings becoming hashtags. This has got to stop.”
But if Congress passes police reform legislation, it won’t be the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, according to Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the chief Republican negotiator on the issue.
“Here’s the truth: We can get something meaningful done. We can pass a bill that the majority of Congress — and the majority of Americans — would agree on,” Scott said in a Twitter thread. “The question we have to ask ourselves is, do we care more about tribalism, posturing, and preserving the status quo? Or do we care about actually doing our jobs and restoring faith in our nation? Put me down for the latter.”
On the House side, Speaker McCarthy did not respond when asked if House Republicans would put forward their own police reform proposal but said that the Nichols killing was appalling.
“We want the Justice Department to work. We want justice to be given,” he said while naming Sen. Scott and Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio as lawmakers he’s spoken to about the issue. “I’ve always believe in any situation like this, you should gather all the information.”
Leader Jeffries was asked a similar question but said he would wait to touch base with the CBC after its meeting with Biden.
The Senate, as you can imagine from Scott’s opposition to the George Floyd Act, is still looking for a consensus. Leader Schumer told Supercreator.
“I’ve talked to Senator Booker on several occasions and he is trying to see if we can get some bipartisan support for police reform.”
Despite the skepticism inside the Capitol and at the grassroots level that Congress can advance a meaningful piece of legislation.
“There wasn’t appetite to act on comprehensive gun safety reform, we got that done. There wasn’t appetite to do infrastructure, we got that done. There wasn’t appetite to do the CHIPS and Science bill. We got that done,” Horsford said to Supercreator. “That’s why we asked and the president agreed to meet because you won’t get it done unless we’re intentional about how we do it.”
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There have been more mass shootings this year (54) than days (34). And if you ask Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson of California, the loopholes in our background check system are responsible in part for America’s gun violence crisis.
The two congressmen on Wednesday reintroduced the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, a bill they say would make it harder for domestic abusers, convicted felons and people experiencing mental health crises to obtain firearms while respecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.
“The impact of gun violence, it kmows no political party and no political persuasion,” Fitzpatrick said at a press conference. “Ending the devastating trend of mass shootings by dangerous, unstable individuals who are already ineligible from possessing a gun demands cooperation from both sides of the aisle. And this legislation meets that demand.”
For Thompson, the legislation is an opportunity to prevent the up to 100 people a day who are killed by someone using a gun, die by suicide or accidental deaths by firearm — especially when 90 percent of the American people and more than seven in 10 National Rifle Association members support expanding background checks.
“And the little trivia takeaway from this is the only corner in America where background checks are not bipartisan, is over on the floor of the United States Senate,” Thompson said. “And we want to make sure we change that this year.”
Mariah Cooley, a senior political science major at Howard University and March For Our Lives board member, told Supercreator that for young people like her, a sense of urgency from lawmakers on this issue is a non-negotiable.
“I would say to the Senate side, if you’re really in office to serve your constituents, then you would pass bills that would save their lives,” Cooley said. “And every day that you don’t, it’s a risk of killing your constituents.”
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Sunday is the 30th anniversary of the Family Medical Leave Act, the law former President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1993 that provides certain employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons.
To mark the occasion, Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood reintroduced the Job Protection Act, a bill that would require the FMLA to encompass all workers, no matter the size of their employer or part-time status and shorten the timeline for employees to be eligible for coverage. These simple provisions would extend protections to tens of millions of vulnerable workers.
“It’s essential. It’s the most significant expansion of FMLA in 30 years. For part-time workers, new hires and people who work for small businesses, they will be eligible. Right now, only 56 percent of the American people are eligible for FMLA,” Underwood said to Supercreator.
Paid family leave was a key plank of the White House and congressional Democrats’ economic agenda while they held the majority in both chambers. But now that the House and Senate are divided, should Americans expect any movement on legislation like Underwood’s?
“The sentiment from the American people is that they are like, ‘This is so essential,’” she said. “It touches everybody. And they are hopeful for solution because it’s so obvious that it needs to get done.”
President Biden on Thursday signed a presidential memo to make it easier for federal employees’ access to leave when they need to care for themselves or a loved one, including during their first year of employment and for reasons related to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking,
President Biden and Vice President Harris also welcomed former President Clinton to the White House to commemorate the anniversary and call on Congress to pass a national paid and medical leave program comparable with every other major economy in the world.
“No American should ever have to choose between a paycheck and taking care of a family member or taking care of themselves,” Biden said.