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WASHINGTON WATCH: September 13, 2022


THE LONG GAME: Senate Dems prioritizing judicial appointments; Vote on marriage equality approaches.

Having won big victories on climate change, healthcare and gun control in recent weeks, Senate Democrats signaled that they would make a major push to confirm new judges prior to the November midterms. In its first vote following the August recess, the Senate voted 50-44 to confirm U.S. District Judge John Lee to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. To date, the Senate has confirmed 76 of President Biden's judicial nominees, including 18 for circuit courts. That figure exceeds the number that former President Trump had at this stage in his presidency; however, Trump’s term ended with 234 appointments overall—nearly a record. Although buoyed by improved poll numbers, Democrats are still concerned that their narrow majority in the Senate could disappear after the midterms. At the moment, another 64 of Biden's picks, including 18 for the appeals courts, still await confirmation.

Senate leaders are signaling that a vote to enshrine the right to same-sex marriage could take place by next week. A bipartisan group, led by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Susan Collins (R-ME), is working to cobble together a coalition that would achieve that goal, while avoiding a GOP filibuster. One area of contention is the insistence by some Senate Republicans that so-called religious liberty exceptions be included in the legislation. Meanwhile, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who had previously said that he had no reason to oppose the bill, now says he will not support the legislation “in its current state.” The House previously voted to codify the right to marriage equality in July, when 47 Republicans joined Democrats in passing the Respect for Marriage Act, which would cement protections for same-sex marriage as well as interracial marriages and repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.

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


Spotlight on Puerto Rico

Vice-President Harris announces new space force partnership with University of Puerto Rico - Mayagüez Campus

During a meeting of the National Space Council on September 9, Vice President Kamala Harris announced a new partnership between the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez and the Department of Defense. The university will become a member of the United States Space Force (USSF) University Partnership Program. The program will enhance collaboration on research projects that further national security objectives in the space domain, and grow and develop a qualified, diverse, and inclusive space workforce. Additionally, the USSF, through the Air Force ROTC program, will increase the value of scholarships for high school students to cover their full college tuition and fees.

Puerto Rican business leaders seek to join lawsuit to Labor Reform Law

A dozen business organizations have asked federal district judge Laura Taylor Swain to be a party to the litigation regarding the validity of Law 41 of 2022 - known as the Labor Reform Law. In an appeal, the business organizations told Swain that, beyond the procedural aspects that gave way to Law 41, the statute will have "negative effects" on businesses operating in Puerto Rico. Business organizations argue that Law 41-2022 imposes multiple burdens on employers. Specifically, they object to granting vacation and sick leave to those who work part-time as well as to the reduction of probationary times in employment, possible increased claims for unjust firing, and changes that expand mandatory Christmas bonuses for some workers.

Congressional Subcommittee to hold hearing on FEMA recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands

The House Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold a hearing this Thursday at 10 a.m. EST on the status of FEMA recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands 5 years after Hurricanes Maria and Irma. The event will be held in Room 2167 in the Rayburn House Office Building and will be streamed live. The hearing will be an opportunity for the members to hear directly from the people on the islands about their recovery and rebuilding, lessons learned, and future plans for dealing with such disasters. Witnesses include Shay Bahramirad, Senior Vice-President of LUMA Energy and Josue Colon, Executive Director of PREPA, among others.

Protests against LUMA spread across Puerto Rico

Amid blackouts and rising energy costs, Puerto Rican residents have taken to the streets dozens of times during the past 13 months to protest LUMA Energy’s management of the power infrastructure on the island. The protests have mostly been peaceful but have escalated at times, including a protest outside the Governor's Mansion last month that led to a violent clash with police. LUMA contends that it understands the problem and shares residents’ frustrations with an electrical grid that has suffered from decades of mismanagement and neglect. Still, Puerto Ricans are reeling from lengthy blackouts in Guayanilla and Mayaguez last spring and are demanding answers. LUMA did itself no favors in July when it announced the seventh consecutive monthly energy rate increase. LUMA blamed the price increases on higher fuel costs. In July, the price in Puerto Rico per kilowatt hour was $0.34, compared to $0.14 for the mainland United States


View From The White House

  • Hoping to avert a nationwide railroad strike, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh took part in meetings last week involving eight labor unions, the nation’s largest rail carriers and the National Mediation Board.

  • On Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security announced that the Biden Administration had rolled back the Trump-era “public charge” rule that had prohibited immigrants from obtaining permanent resident status if they had used certain government benefits.

  • The administration, working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of the Interior, launched a new website to help state and local governments identify hazards in their areas related to climate change.

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