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WASHINGTON WATCH: December 12, 2023


THE LONG GAME:  Tuberville relents on military promotions; GOP demands immigration changes  

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) finally caved to pressure from colleagues in both parties and released his hold on the promotions of hundreds of military personnel. The Senate immediately voted unanimously to promote about 440 members of the armed forces. Tuberville imposed his hold in February to protest the Pentagon’s policy of reimbursing the travel expenses of members who seek reproductive health care. Although many Republicans initially supported Tuberville’s action, patience wore thin in recent months. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), himself a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve, warned about a looming exodus of top military officers if the hold were not lifted. Tuberville maintains a hold on the promotions of approximately 10 nominees at the rank of 4-star general, which will require individual votes.  

The Biden Administration’s hope for assistance to Ukraine and Israel appears to hinge on Republican demands for major changes in immigration policy. Among the areas being discussed are asylum standards and humanitarian parole. Additionally, some GOP lawmakers want to expand the use of expedited removal to deport people who entered the country illegally. The White House signaled last week that it was open to compromise, with President Biden stating that “we need to fix the broken border system.” However, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said that some of the Republican proposals were “unreasonable.” Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is scheduled to visit Washington this week to lobby for additional funding. The administration is seeking about $50 billion in new security assistance for Ukraine and approximately $14 billion for Israel.

Washington Watch is published weekly when Congress is in session. Published monthly during extended recess or adjournment. 


Spotlight on Puerto Rico

EMA allocates another $5.7 million for recreational, natural areas 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced the allocation of $5.7 million to repair recreational and natural areas that were damaged by Hurricane Maria in 2017. These repairs are expected to support preservation, tourism, and economic development in the affected areas. Among the recipients of the funding is Seven Seas Resort in Fajardo which received $2.7 million to rebuild gazebos, camping areas, lifeguard towers, lighting, and make other repairs.  More than $1.1 million was allocated to the Puerto Rico Tourism Company to repair the water fountain of the Plaza Dársenas and Paseo La Princesa in Old San Juan. In all, FEMA has allocated $31.5 billion for nearly 10,900 projects to rebuild Puerto Rico since 2018.  

Concerns raised about Puerto Rican recovery spending  

Puerto Rico Legal Aid, or Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico, recently released a report highlighting the slow pace of the Island’s recovery process since Hurricanes Maria and Irma struck in 2017. Since then, Puerto Rico has received about $20 billion specifically for planning, housing, energy, and infrastructure projects.  However, Ayuda Legal claims that the Island’s Housing Department still does not have the capacity to manage the funds received and time to spend those dollars is running out. Additionally, the department has no system for fraud detection, raising concerns about oversight practices on existing spending practices and programs. Only 29% of the 3,067 people who received relocation vouchers when their homes were destroyed have purchased replacement homes. The report recommends reforming the flood insurance system to include environmental factors and reusing and upgrading abandoned properties, of which there are an estimated 200,000 that could be refurbished to supplement the current affordable housing inventory.  

Broadband Program kicks off second request for proposals  

The Puerto Rico Broadband Program announced its second request for proposals (RFP) last week, seeking qualified providers to design and implement resilient power systems and reinforced infrastructure solutions for telecom and security facilities. The program was created by an Executive Order in 2022 to minimize internet and telecom connectivity issues in the event of natural disasters. The RFP specifically targets projects that can be implemented quickly. The deadline for this round of RFPs is December 22. 

Largest solar facility in Puerto Rico is switched on  

Depcom Power’s Ciro One project, a 90 Megawatt (MW) solar facility with a 51.5 MW battery energy storage system, was switched on last week and became the largest operating solar-plus-storage facility in Puerto Rico. The project is expected to begin full operations by the end of the year. The facility features lithium titanate oxide (LTO) batteries, which guarantee a lifespan of at least 25 years compared to the traditional and more commonly used Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP) technology. The system is designed to be stable through any natural disaster and is said to be capable of withstanding hurricane-force winds.   


View From The White House

  • President Biden announced $8.2 billion in funding for 10 new rail projects, including $3 billion for a high-speed system connecting Las Vegas to Southern California. 

  • In an effort to slash high drug prices, the administration released a framework last week for the government to use “march-in rights” to take away patents for certain high-priced drugs.The Government agencies could seize patents if “the price or other terms at which the product is currently offered to the public are not reasonable” or “unreasonably limit availability of the invention to the public.” 

  • The White House updated an online posting last week indicating that it would delay a proposed ban on menthol cigarettes until at least March 2024. 



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