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WASHINGTON WATCH: October 3, 2023


THE LONG GAME:  McCarthy ousted as speaker after averting government shutdown; Butler to succeed Feinstein

The House was plunged into chaos Tuesday as a handful of conservatives made Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) pay a political price for his role in averting a government shutdown. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) introduced a resolution Monday evening to remove McCarthy from his position. It passed the House Tuesday afternoon by a vote of 216 to 210, with eight Republicans supporting it. Gaetz’s move was triggered when McCarthy over the weekend abandoned the demands of hard-liners in his GOP conference who had insisted on a Republican-only short-term spending bill. In the end, more Democrats than Republicans voted for the bill to keep the government operating until November 17. The measure passed 335-91, with the Senate approving it by a margin of 88-9 after voting to remove funding for Ukraine. "Democrats have said from the start that the only solution for avoiding a shutdown is bipartisanship, and we are glad Speaker McCarthy has finally heeded our message," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The turnabout was such a surprise that many federal departments had already alerted their personnel that a shutdown was imminent. As of this writing, it is unclear what will happen next to fill the speaker’s chair. There is no precedent to govern what happens next. The House Democratic Caucus and the Republican Conference plan to meet Tuesday evening to plot strategy. Among those whose names have been floated to fill the vacancy is Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN), the majority whip. Some Republicans have vowed to renominate McCarthy. Stay tuned...

California Governor Gavin Newsom on Sunday named Democratic strategist Laphonza Butler to fill the Senate seat vacated by the death of Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Feinstein, first elected to the Senate in 1992, died last week at the age of 90. Butler is the president of EMILY’s List, the organization that works to elect pro-choice Democratic women, and previously served as an advisor to Vice President Kamala Harris. Newsom had previously pledged to nominate a Black woman to fill the seat if it became vacant; Butler’s nomination fulfills that pledge. Butler will also become the first openly LGBTQ senator from California. Several high-profile Democrats have announced their campaigns for the seat in 2024, including Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter, and Adam Schiff.

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


Spotlight on Puerto Rico

Six companies secure spots for new power generation contract

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) will work with six companies on a $5 billion contract for power generation and stabilization in Puerto Rico. The companies-- Amenthum, AshBritt, CDM Smith, OMP Solutions, PTSI Managed Services, and Weston Solutions-- will compete for orders under a fixed-price contract through September 2028. USACE will handle planning, coordination, and installation of temporary power generating units in collaboration with PREPA and LUMA Energy. The power generation services provided by the contractors will include installation of new control systems, testing and commissioning power generation systems, among other tasks.

Arecibo Radio Telescope Observatory to become new STEM center 

The United States National Science Foundation (NSF) has announced a $5 million investment to create a new STEM education and research center at the Arecibo Observatory. Beginning in the 1970s, Arecibo was one of the most powerful single-dish radio telescopes in the world. In 2018, one year after Hurricane Maria significantly damaged the site, the University of Central Florida partnered with Universidad Metropolitana in San Juan and Yang Enterprises in Oviedo to manage the site and expand its capabilities. However, a number of environmental, structural, and funding issues led to the telescope being decommissioned in December 2020. This funding will be used to establish the Arecibo Center for Culturally Relevant and Inclusive Science Education, Computational Skills, and Community Engagement (Arecibo C3). The new center will serve as a catalyst for increased engagement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

Researchers using AI to preserve rainforests in Puerto Rico is partnering with researchers from the environmental nonprofit Rainforest Connection to monitor and conserve species in threatened rainforest ecosystems, beginning in Puerto Rico. The conservationists are using an open-source AI platform called Arbimon that uses acoustics to monitor biodiversity. It has collected nearly 8 million recordings from more than 900 sites to improve knowledge of the locations of at-risk species like the Mountain Coqui. The AI’s recorders are equipped with long-range capture technology to monitor forest sounds 24 hours per day.


View From The White House

  • The Department of Energy on Friday issued final efficiency rules for residential furnaces which, when they take effect in 2028, will save households more than $1.5 billion in annual heating expenses.

  • In the face of severe worker shortages and low unemployment rates, the Biden Administration is expected to unveil a playbook later this week on best practices for training workers.

  • The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, announced last week up to $26 million for a newly funded project that seeks to lay the groundwork for the development of fully-functional 3D-printed human organs.



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