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Window On Washington - January 19, 2021, Vol. 5, Issue 3

Jan 19, 2021

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Biden Inauguration. President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration as the United States’ 46th president is tomorrow. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is expected to be sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor shortly before noon, and President-elect Biden will be sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts at noon. Vice President Mike Pence will attend the inauguration, along with former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton.

Biden will be the first president in recent history to be inaugurated without at least one of his Cabinet picks confirmed by the Senate before the inauguration. As such, the Biden Transition Team is working to finalize temporary Cabinet appointments, noting that career officials would be put in place for most cabinet departments and in some subcabinet agencies for the time being. Separately, starting tomorrow Biden is planning 10 days of executive actions, accompanied by legislative agendas, focused on four crises facing the country – COVID-19, the resulting economic downturn, racial injustice, and climate change.

Congress. The Senate is back in session today, and the House returns from recess on Thursday. The Senate will begin committee confirmation hearings for some of President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet picks this week, including Janet Yellen (Treasury), Antony Blinken (State), General Lloyd Austin (Defense), Avril Haines (Director of National Intelligence), Alejandro Mayorkas (Homeland Security), and Pete Buttigieg (Transportation). Georgia Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are set to be sworn in as senators as early as this week as well.

Impeachment. While the House impeached President Donald Trump in a 232-197 vote last Wednesday, the Senate has not yet set a date for the trial. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) could send the article of impeachment to the Senate shortly after President-elect Biden takes the oath of office tomorrow, but she may push sending it over to a later date to give the new Administration time to settle in and work on other priorities. Biden asked the Senate parliamentarian and Senate leaders if it would be possible for the Senate to consider his nominees and key legislation during an impeachment trial, with half days devoted to the trial proceedings and the rest to other Senate work, but the matter has not yet been resolved.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

House GOP Moves to Shore Up Some At-Risk Members with Appropriations Seats: The new Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee are Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA), Ben Cline (R-VA), David Valadao (R-CA), Tony Gonzales (R-TX), Ashley Hinson (R-IA), and Mike Garcia (R-CA). (Roll Call)

Health

Seven Lawmakers Test Positive for COVID Since Capitol Insurrection: Since Jan. 6, Reps. Jake LaTurner (R-KS), Michelle Steel (R-CA), Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Brad Schneider (D-IL) have all announced positive test results. Reps. Coleman, Jayapal, and Schneider all said they were in a secure room with maskless lawmakers during the siege. (The Hill)

Banking & Housing

New President, Congress to Find Bipartisanship With Infrastructure, Lawmakers Say: The new leadership dynamics in Washington point to a real potential for advancing transformative legislation during Biden’s tenure, say several infrastructure funding proponents and key Members of Congress, who believe it is one of few areas that may see early legislative progress on Capitol Hill. (Transport Topics)

Defense

Pelosi Announces New Armed Services Committee Appointments: The new members on the House Armed Services Committee are Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), and Marc Veasey (D-CA). (Speaker Pelosi’s Newsroom)

Lawmakers Want Pentagon, DOJ to Punish Current, Former Military Members Who Participated in Riot: In their letter, the lawmakers said they wanted to know about any administrative and legal tools that could be used to prosecute those who participated in the riot, including whether or not security clearances could be revoked, access to military bases could be prohibited and if benefits earned during military service could be withdrawn. (The Hill)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Budget & Appropriations

Biden Nominates Top House Appropriations Aide for OMB Deputy Director; DeLauro Announces Appropriations Committee Staff Changes: President-elect Joe Biden has nominated Shalanda Young, who currently serves as clerk and staff director for the House Appropriations Committee, to the No. 2 post at the Office of Management and Budget. Following Young’s nomination, House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) promoted Robin Juliano to Staff Director and Clerk of the House Appropriations Committee. (House Appropriations Committee)

Biden’s $1.9 Trillion COVID Relief Plan: President-elect Joe Biden last Thursday unveiled the details of a $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package designed to support households and businesses. The proposal, called the American Rescue Plan, includes several measures, such as stimulus checks, unemployment benefits, state and local government aid, an extended eviction moratorium, K-12 and higher education relief, funding for testing and vaccines, a minimum wage increase, and a refundable child tax credit. (CNBC)

‘Uncertainty’ in Budget Process After OMB Ends Call for Agency Performance Metrics: The Trump administration, in an 11th-hour memo, has suspended a requirement for agencies to set strategic planning goals and to share progress made with Congress and the public as part of the annual budget process. (Federal News Network)

Health/HHS/NIH

Biden Will Keep Dr. Francis Collins as NIH Director: President-elect Joe Biden will keep Dr. Francis Collins as head of the National Institutes of Health, who was first appointed as NIH director by President Barack Obama in 2009. (Reuters)

Biden Unveils COVID-19 Vaccine Plan, with Focus on Mass Inoculations: President-elect Joe Biden detailed the $20 billion effort last week, which is part of a much larger $1.9 trillion relief package that includes $415 billion focused on combating the COVID-19 pandemic. (The Hill)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Biden to Name Gary Gensler as U.S. SEC Chair: Gary Gensler will be named chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) by President-elect Joe Biden. Gensler was chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) from 2009 to 2014, and since November has led Biden’s transition planning for financial industry oversight. (Reuters)

Transportation/DOT

NTSB Investigation Concludes Electric Vehicle Battery Fires a Threat to First Responders: The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) last Wednesday said that electric vehicle fires pose a threat to first responders and that vehicle manufacturers have distributed inadequate guidance to mitigate safety risks. NTSB issued recommendations calling for manufacturers to develop and publish vehicle-specific response guides for addressing battery fires and limiting chemical thermal runaway and reignition. (The Hill)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Huntsville Gets Nod for Space Command HQ, At Least For Now: The Air Force announced last week that Huntsville, AL is the preferred location for the permanent headquarters of U.S. Space Command. The carefully worded statement indicated, however, that a final choice will not be made until 2023. USSPACECOM is temporarily located in Colorado Springs, CO and Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-CO) has already written to President-elect Joe Biden asking him to reverse the decision. (Space Policy Online)

Trump’s Enduring Space Legacy: President Trump’s space achievements will perhaps be the most unblemished part of his legacy. Even many who do not agree with his administration’s broader politics cannot dispute that the top-level focus he put on space has advanced the nation’s goals. (Politico Space)

Is NASA About to Get its First Female Leader? The incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris may very well make history with their choice to lead the 62-year-old U.S. space agency, said Jack Burns, a professor of astrophysics and planetary science at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Ellen Stofan and Pam Melroy, who are both already working with the Biden administration as members of the current eight-person NASA transition team, are among those being considered for the role. (Space.com)

Defense/DOD

Norquist to Serve as Acting Defense Secretary; Acting Service Secretaries Named: The Biden team has decided that David Norquist, the current deputy secretary of defense, is the best choice to keep the day-to-day operations of the Defense Department running while Lloyd Austin, the retired Army general who is President-elect Joe Biden’s choice to lead the department, awaits his confirmation from Congress. (Defense News)

DHS & Immigration

Biden Picks Familiar Face for Top Role at FEMA: President-elect Joe Biden is nominating New York emergency department commissioner Deanne Criswell to serve as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator. (AP)

Top FEMA Official Attended Trump's 'Stop the Steal' Rally: The official, Chris Grisafe, told staff last week that he attended the rally to show his support for the outgoing president and has claimed that he did not move with the crowd from the rally area near the White House to the Capitol grounds. (Politico)

Acting Homeland Security Chief Chad Wolf Resigns: Wolf’s departure makes him the third Cabinet-level official to quit following the attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters. (Roll Call)

Judiciary/DOJ

DOJ Internal Watchdog Opens Investigation into Capitol Riots: DOJ’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, said that the investigation will examine the intelligence the department had preceding the deadly riots, how it distributed that information with other agencies, and actions during the crisis. (Politico)

Cyber

Biden Proposal Calls Investments in Federal IT ‘an Urgent National Security Issue’: As part of his COVID relief proposal to Congress, Biden called the need to upgrade the federal IT infrastructure and cybersecurity systems an urgent national security issue. To that end, the proposal requests $9 billion for the Technology Modernization Fund—a 3,600% increase over the $25 million it received in fiscal 2020. (Federal News Network)

Pentagon’s Weapon Tester Pushes for Better Assessments of Offensive Cyber Tools: In cyberspace, testing offensive weapons presents difficulties because artificial network “test ranges” are necessary to avoid damaging real-world systems. These offensive capabilities are often designed to work against hardware or software flaws that adversaries could patch at any moment, meaning for some targets and exploits, time is always fleeting. (C4ISR Net)

EPA & DOI

Biden Unveils Picks to Staff White House Climate Office: The crew staffing the new White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy will help oversee what the incoming administration says will be an aggressive, government-wide approach to the topic. The choices include Maggie Thomas, Sona Aggarwal, David Hayes, Jahi Wise, and Cecilia Martinez. (Axios)

Interior to Close National Mall to Demonstrations before Inauguration: D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser had urged Interior to close off the Mall to outside gatherings after Trump supporters, goaded by the president in a speech near the Mall, attacked the Capitol, overwhelming security and delaying the certification of Biden's election. (Politico)

A ‘Forever Chemical’ Surprise Awaits Biden’s EPA: President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to address so-called forever chemicals that have been found in Americans’ drinking water and linked to many adverse health effects. (Roll Call)

12 States, Green Groups Sue EPA over Airline Standards They Deem Insufficient: The attorneys general and the groups argue that the first-ever U.S. standards, which are not expected to actually reduce emissions, are insufficient. (The Hill)

Department of Energy

2021 Legal Fights Will Test Biden Energy Agenda: Pending litigation over land grabs and water permits for energy operations have the potential to draw the attention of the Supreme Court. And the new administration will need to contend with a string of lawsuits challenging President Trump's latest efforts to weaken energy and climate rules. Biden may circumvent the courts in some cases if he chooses to take swift action to block controversial projects like the Keystone XL oil pipeline. (E&E News)

U.S. Grid Will See 80 Percent of its New Capacity go Emission-Free: The big story in 2021 will be the continued acceleration of the shift away from fossil fuels, as there will be no new coal capacity added in 2021 and lower solar generation costs increasingly are displacing investment also in new natural gas-fired generation. (Ars Technica)