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WASHINGTON WATCH: December 7, 2021


THE LONG GAME: Lawmakers approve CR despite effort by vaccine mandate foes; Jan. 6thpanel weighs electoral law changes

With just hours to go before a government shutdown, President Biden signed a continuing resolution late Friday that funds the federal government through February 18. Final passage of the bill involved some high-stakes drama, as the deal was threatened by a handful of Republicans objecting to federal vaccine requirements. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that the last-minute attempt represented “a double sense of irresponsibility: First of all, they'd shut down government, and then they'd shut down science.” Many observers noted that the effort was led by several GOP Senators-- such as Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) - who in 2013 were at the center of the 16-day shutdown that occurred when conservatives tried to block implementation of the Affordable Care Act. In the end, the Senate hold-outs were allowed to introduce an amendment aimed at defunding Biden’s vaccine mandates on businesses, the military and federal workforce. The amendment was defeated on a 50-48 vote. In the House, only one Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), joined Democrats to vote in favor of the stopgap bill.

In addition to seeking information from members of former President Trump’s inner circle, members of the House select committee investigating the January 6th insurrection might soon recommend changes to electoral law. According to the New York Times, members are eyeing changes to the Electoral Count Act of 1887 to ensure that the country does not face a constitutional crisis in the future. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), vice chair of the panel, said last week that the law “is directly at issue” and that the committee would suggest changes to it. It has come to light that Trump lawyers drafted a plan calling for then-Vice President Mike Pence to be pressured into accepting an alternate slate of electors from seven states won by Biden, forcing a vote in the House and enabling Trump to retain power.

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


Spotlight on Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico coronavirus statistics for December 6

According to the Puerto Rico Health Department, 326,153 people are believed to have been infected with COVID-19, an increase of 892 since November 29. This represents a sharp increase in the rate of new cases, given that the increase between November 22 and November 29 was 521. However, since the increase in cases in the week before that was 868, it would seem to be that last week’s drop was a statistical outlier. The death toll is currently 3,273, with 4 of those registered since November 29.

According to the Puerto Rico Health Department and its Puerto Rico Electric Immunization System (PREIS), there are 3,076,212 people in Puerto Rico who are eligible for the vaccine, and 77.3% of that amount has been fully vaccinated, while 86.9% has been partially vaccinated. Additionally, some 468,553 adults have now received a booster shot. While Puerto Rico remains in a relatively solid position when it comes to handling COVID—the positivity rate is currently 2.34%—the global surge in cases and the emergence of the Omicron variant has spurred authorities to step up their efforts to contain the virus. Testing at Puerto Rico airports will now include genomic testing of the virus, to identify the variants of the virus affecting people entering the Island.

Corruption scheme leads to Cataño Mayor’s resignation

On November 30, Felix “el Cano” Delgado resigned from his position as mayor of Cataño; he had been the subject of a federal corruption investigation, which resulted in his indictment on that same day. Following a plea-bargaining process with prosecutors, he pled guilty to charges of conspiracy, bribery, and kickbacks.

The investigation into Delgado centered on separate illegal agreements Delgado had, since 2017, with Oscar Santamaría, owner of the company Waste Collection, and Mario Villegas Vargas, owner of J.R. Asphalt. Following Delgado’s resignation, then-deputy mayor Gabriel Sicardó Ocasio stepped in as acting mayor. A special election will be held on December 19 to determine who will fill the position on a more permanent basis.

Citing lack of benefits and low pay, Puerto Rico’s Police express widespread dissatisfaction

Puerto Rico’s murder rate is increasing - by Saturday, December 4, the rate for this year had surpassed the 2020 rate by 75 deaths. This increase comes amidst increasing dissatisfaction among the officers in the Puerto Rico Police Bureau, who in the past few months have protested pension cuts and low benefits that, according to them, prevent them from retiring with dignity and have led to persistent staffing shortages and absenteeism.

According to Police Commissioner Antonio López Figueroa, the Police Bureau would require 16,000 officers to operate effectively. It currently has 12,057, of which only 10,400 are on actual duty—about half of what it had during the ‘90s. Among the factors leading to this drop in numbers is the cut in benefits, including retirement plans, which until 2013 allowed a police officer to retire after 30 years of service at 55, with a pension of up to 75% of their salary, as well as contributions to a health plan. However, under the administration of former governor Alejandro García Padilla, pensions were lowered substantially, in some cases down to 30% of an officer’s salary. Some attempts have been made since to restore at least some of these benefits. Recently, governor Pedro Pierluisi announced that he had identified $17 million to be used for uninsured retired police officers.


View From The White House

  • The Biden Administration unveiled on Monday a first-ever U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption, which consists of five pillars aimed at stopping bad actors from exploiting domestic and international financial systems to launder money and hide assets.

  • The White House announced on Friday that the U.S. would send 9 million additional Covid vaccines to African nations, bringing the total number of donations to Africa to 100 million vaccines.

  • The administration announced on Monday a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing, resulting in no U.S. officials attending the games, although American athletes would still participate.

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