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WASHINGTON WATCH: January 11, 2023


THE LONG GAME: McCarthy (finally) elected Speaker; Biden’s new border policies

It took a remarkable and exhausting fifteen ballots. Finally, early Saturday morning, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) achieved his goal of becoming House Speaker. He earned 216 votes, to 212 for incoming House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY); six members voted present. Securing the gavel came at a cost, however, in the form of several concessions McCarthy made to appease his far-right colleagues. For example, McCarthy agreed to lower from five to one the number of members it would take to force a vote on ousting the Speaker—a move that could greatly empower members of the Freedom Caucus. He also agreed to put a greater number of conservatives on the powerful House Rules Committee and to create a committee to investigate the so-called “weaponization” of the FBI. While Democrats showed unity in backing Jeffries vote after vote, Republicans’ frustrations with one another appeared to boil over—such as when Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) had to be restrained during a confrontation with McCarthy opponent Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). After the final vote, all members (including Republican George Santos of New York) took their oaths of office and the 118th Congress finally got underway. In contrast to the fireworks in the House chamber, on the other side of the Capitol, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) set a record for longest serving Senate party leader.

Facing a surge in migrants attempting to cross the southern border, President Biden announced on Thursday a set of new policies that would allow 30,000 people per month to enter from four nations, while seeking to turn away thousands of people seeking asylum. Biden said that the U.S. would grant humanitarian parole to eligible migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela, while expanding the use of Title 42 expulsions. Meanwhile, Homeland Security officials said that they would deny asylum to those who do not first ask for the protection in the country through which they traveled. Reaction among lawmakers was mixed. Congressional Hispanic Caucus chair Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán(D-CA) said that the group “welcomes the Administration’s efforts to expand legal pathways for refugees and asylum seekers but is disappointed with the expansion of the failed Trump-era Title 42 policy that has denied asylum seekers their rights to due process for far too long.” Biden visited the border near El Paso on Sunday, on his way to meetings with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada.

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


Spotlight on Puerto Rico

EMA awards PREPA $68.5 million for Hurricane Fiona relief

This past week, FEMA awarded another $68.5 million to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA). This money is the result of PREPA’s actions following Fiona, when the utility activated supplemental peaking units to increase energy production across the Island, which reduced the number of blackouts in the municipalities hit by the hurricane. The funding is part of FEMA’s Public Assistance Program which awards resources to local governments and non-profits to repair, replace, or restore disaster-damaged infrastructure. This $68.5 million is in addition to the $670.5 million in federal funding that has been allocated to support the Island as it recovers from Hurricane Fiona.

Microgrids keep Puerto Ricans connected

When Hurricane Fiona struck, much of Puerto Rico suffered from an Island-wide power failure. Some communities were able to withstand the collapse thanks to microgrids, small autonomous energy systems consisting of solar panels and batteries that residents could plug into and use to power cell phones, medical equipment, and other critical items. One such grid is in Castañer, a small town in the central Puerto Rican mountains that is home to the “Microrred de la Montaña” (Microgrid of the Mountain). The Microrred de la Montaña is currently expanding and, when completed, will consist of two microgrids plus an individual site and will be open to the municipalities of Adjuntas, Jayuya, Lares, and Utuado. These communities have about 90,000 people total combined, are among the poorest and most disadvantaged in Puerto Rico, and are especially vulnerable to extreme weather events and lengthy power outages. After Hurricane Maria, these rural areas endured more than nine months without electricity.

El Yunque to receive $1 Million from Biden-Hcccarris Administration

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on Monday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Forest Service will provide $1 million to improve access to El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest that is part of the National Park Service. Approximately 1.2 million people visit El Yunque annually, a figure that accounts for approximately 20% of the Island’s tourism economy. Among the areas to be addressed is vehicle congestion. Up to 3,000 cars seek to enter the park each day, but the forest has only 300 parking spaces. USDA made an initial $250,000 investment in December to develop a master transit plan, including a park and ride system to shuttle visitors into the forest.


View From The White House

  • The Department of Education yesterday unveiled changes to its student loan forgiveness program that would enable people earning less than approximately $30,500 per year to have $0 monthly payments.

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Friday that the administration would send $3.75 billion in new military assistance to Ukraine and other countries.

  • President Biden marked the second anniversary of the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol by awarding the Presidential Citizens Medal to more than a dozen people-- including law enforcement officers and election officials who blocked efforts by former President Donald Trump to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

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