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WASHINGTON WATCH: September 20, 2022


THE LONG GAME: Schumer-Manchin agreement puts CR in jeopardy; Graham’s abortion ban

With just weeks to go before Congress must pass a stopgap spending bill, a new wrinkle has emerged raising the threat of a government shutdown. This summer, Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) worked out a deal with Sen. Joe Manchin to secure the West Virginia Democrat’s support for the Inflation Reduction Act. In return for Manchin’s support, Schumer would help secure a plan to expedite the permitting of certain energy projects, which would allow for construction of the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline, a priority for Manchin. Schumer agreed to include the plan in the continuing resolution (CR) that must pass before September 30 to keep the government operating. However, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are now objecting to the agreement. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said that “I personally don't support adding” the permitting plan to the spending bill, though she said she does not want to see a government shutdown. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) took to the Senate floor to decry what he called a “side deal,” and more than 75 House members signed a letter protesting it. For his part, Schumer remains steadfast that the proposal will remain in the spending bill, declaring: "I'm going to add it to the CR and it will pass.” Stay tuned.

Despite months of assurances from Republicans that the GOP had no intention of imposing a nationwide abortion ban, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) unveiled legislation to do just that. His bill would prohibit abortions after 15 weeks, allowing for some exceptions in the case of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother. Though some Republicans, chief among them Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), expressed immediate support for the proposal, many Republicans were taken aback by Graham’s action. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that “most of the members of my conference prefer that this be dealt with at the state level.” Given the recent victory by pro-choice voters in Kansas and Democrats’ successes in several special elections where abortion rights played a prominent role, Democrats appear eager to highlight Graham’s proposal heading into November.

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


Spotlight on Puerto Rico

Hurricane Fiona creates catastrophe across Puerto Rico

On the week marking the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria, another devastating storm struck Puerto Rico. Hurricane Fiona, officially a Category 2 storm, hit the south and southeastern parts of the Island this weekend, bringing with it 103 mile-per-hour winds and rainfall ranging from 12-24 inches in various places, causing flooding across the Island. The storm knocked out the power grid and caused an Island-wide blackout which LUMA Energy, the private company in charge of maintaining the grid, said could take weeks to fully address. President Biden declared a State of Emergency for Puerto Rico on Sunday, freeing up hundreds of millions of dollars in immediate FEMA assistance. Governor Pierluisi is urging patience as the Island and the federal government work to fully assess the damage and once again begin the long process of rebuilding.

Five years after Hurricane Maria, rebuilding and emergency planning issues remain

As the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria approached and Hurricane Fiona made its way to Puerto Rico, a Congressional panel met last week to discuss Puerto Rico’s rebuilding process. During a hearingof the House Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management, Shay Bahramirad, a senior vice president at LUMA Energy, said the company had done more in the past 15 months to increase energy efficiency than had been done in the past decade, including connecting more clients to solar energy. Despite this claim, many people on the Island and members of Congress want more answers and more reliability. A few weeks ago, FEMA made $9.5 billion available for Puerto Rico to rebuild its power grid, the largest ever public infrastructure project on the Island. At least 40 projects have already been approved using this funding, but there is a long way to go before every Puerto Rican has reliable access to electricity. The hearing found that Hurricane Maria caused $90 billion in damages. Congress allocated at least $71 billion for general recovery and reconstruction operations, of which $62 billion have been made available to the Island. However, about 72% of those funds have not yet reached local communities, according to Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez, Puerto Rico's non-voting delegate in Congress.

Department of Justice to intervene in disability discrimination case in San Juan

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it would intervene in a discrimination lawsuit brought by individuals with mobility disabilities against the City of San Juan under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504). The DOJ alleges that there are widespread accessibility issues with San Juan’s sidewalks, including curb ramps that are cracked, too steep or nonexistent, and walkways that are uneven, too narrow, or obstructed. The DOJ has already participated in discussions with the parties in the hope of securing San Juan’s cooperation in bringing the city into compliance.

Johnson and Johnson plans to move production from Europe to Puerto Rico

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) announced it will beef up capabilities at two plants in the town of Gurabo and one each in Manati and San Lorenzo, creating 308 jobs in the process with an investment of more than $225 million. The improvements will not only introduce new freeze-dry technology to one of its plants, but also draw production to Puerto Rico from Europe. The announcement comes only months after J&J said it was making technology upgrades at a plant in Las Piedras that manufactures Tylenol.


View From The White House

  • In what was his most direct comment to date on the issue, President Biden told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that the U.S. would come to the defense of Taiwan if there was an “unprecedented attack” by China.

  • According to the Wall Street Journal, the Biden Administration is moving closer to fulfilling the president’s campaign promise to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay. A senior diplomat has been appointed to oversee detainee transfers and the Administration has indicated that it will allow plea negotiations to move forward in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, one of the masterminds of the 9/11 terrorist attack.

  • President Biden’s approval rating climbed to 45 percent in a new NBC poll—the same mark he received in an Associated Press-NORC poll released last week—fueled in part by support from women, Latinos and younger voters.

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