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THE LONG GAME: House to take up gun safety bill; Prime time Jan. 6th hearings

The House Judiciary Committee approved a far-reaching gun control bill last Thursday setting up a floor vote as early as this week. The measure, passed in the wake of mass shootings in Uvalde, Buffalo and Tulsa merges eight separate bills into one package. Among other things, it would raise the legal age to buy certain semiautomatic rifles from18 to 21 and crack down on gun trafficking and the selling of large-capacity magazines. The bill, entitled the “Protecting Our Kids Act,” passed the committee on a party-line vote. Tensions between Republicans and Democrats ran high during the mark-up session, especially when Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL), who was participating remotely from his home, displayed several weapons that he said would be prohibited under the bill. The bill has virtually no chance of passing the Senate in its current form. In that chamber, a bipartisan group, led by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and John Cornyn (R-TX), is said to be looking at a law passed in Florida in 2018 in the wake of the Parkland mass shooting as a template for what can be accomplished nationally.

The House select committee looking into the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol will take its case to the American public this Thursday night with its first prime time hearings. The hearings, one of a half-dozen public sessions that the committee will hold in June, will include a combination of live witnesses, pre-taped testimony and new video previously unseen by the public. Among those whose recorded testimony is likely to be presented are Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner. Former President Donald Trump is expected to counter with a response to the hearings, likely through his “Truth Social” online platform. To date, the committee has interviewed more than 1,000 people, with only brief excerpts of the interviews having been released to the public. The panel is expected to issue several reports, including legislative recommendations, by the fall.

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


Spotlight on Puerto Rico

As hurricane season arrives, concerns arise over Puerto Rico’s power grid

As hurricane season got underway on June 1, many Puerto Ricans were reminded of the many months without electricity following Hurricane Maria and worry that the Island's electrical grid may not be able to handle what ensues this summer. Nearly a year ago, the Island awarded a contract to LUMA Energy, a joint U.S.-Canadian company. Though LUMA says it is ready for hurricane season, with $130 million in emergency supplies and 1,000 technicians ready to act, many on the Island are still dealing with periodic outages, including the massive island-wide blackout in April that lasted for days. Additionally, Puerto Ricans are paying some of the highest utility rates in the United States, with people complaining of 150% increases and with monthly bills soaring from $170 a month to as much as $450 for some customers.

Congressional Delegation visits Puerto Rico for talks on Island’s status

A congressional delegation led by New York Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nydia Velazquez visited Puerto Rico last week to discuss whether Puerto Rico should become the 51st state, independent, or whether to move to a form of hybrid quasi-independent status. Democrats in Congress are moving forward with a new plebiscite, supported by Governor Pedro Pierluisi, that would give voters an opportunity to choose from among all three options in a binding election. The plebiscite would differ from the past referendum where statehood won decisively but turnout was low amid boycotts because of the non-binding nature of those past election results. With more than 3 million residents on the Island and more than 5 million in the mainland diaspora, the issue of Puerto Rico's status is highly contentious, even among House Democrats. While Rep. Velazquez strongly opposes statehood, Rep. Ritchie Torres from a neighboring district is strongly in favor. Leading House Democrats currently support holding a vote on the proposal to authorize a plebiscite. Whether the Senate will act after the House votes is still up in the air.

Town files lawsuit over lack of water

The mayor of Morovis, Carmen Maldonado, has filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court against Puerto Rico's Aqueducts and Sewer Authority to compel it to provide potable water to 1,600 named plaintiffs. They are seeking penalties in the form of fines equal to $1,000 per day per person denied water, with allegations of $55 billion in damages due to the lack of water in their community. Daily interruptions of water supply have been a problem since before Hurricane Maria hit in 2017. At least three wards of the city have been without water on a daily basis and the city has been forced to spend $1 million on water trucks since January 2017, nine months before Maria made landfall there.

Puerto Rico mayor, finance director face corruption charges

In what seems to be deja vu all over again, yet another political scandal has engulfed the Island, leading to arrests and Gov. Pierluisi calling for resignations of top officials. Last Wednesday, a judge ordered the arrest of Mayaguez Mayor Jose Guillermo Rodriguez and the city's Finance Director for allegedly embezzling $9 million in public funds to use in personal, high-risk investments. The money was supposed to be used for improvements to a local trauma center.

View From The White House

  • In a victory for domestic solar installers, the Biden administration announced on Monday a 24-month tariff exemption for solar panel products from Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam, and said that it would use the Defense Production Act to spur development.

  • The Biden administration announced that the White House will pay some of its interns beginning this fall at a rate of $750 per week.

  • The deputy director of the National Economic Council, Bharat Ramamurti, said that the administration is considering a proposal to tax oil and gas windfall profits and to pass along a gas subsidy to U.S. consumers

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