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Window On Washington - January 25, 2021, Vol. 5, Issue 4

Jan 25, 2021

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Biden Administration. President Joe Biden signed numerous executive orders in his first week in office and will sign more this week, with the continued intention of rolling back certain Trump Administration policies while also implementing his own. Biden will focus on immigration, health care, climate, and other areas this week, with each day following a designated theme. A breakdown of the items expected each day can be found here from The Hill.

Congress. The Senate is in session this week, though the House is not. The Senate will vote on a handful of Cabinet nominations throughout the week, which are likely set to include Janet Yellen (Treasury), Alejandro Mayorkas (Homeland Security), Pete Buttigieg (Transportation), and Antony Blinken (State). Numerous Senate committees also plan to hold confirmation hearings this week, including for Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo (Commerce), Jennifer Granholm (Energy), Denis McDonough (Veterans Affairs), Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH; Housing and Urban Development), Cecilia Rouse (Council of Economic Advisors), and Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield (United Nations).

Separately, Senate leaders are still negotiating a power-sharing agreement after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) rejected a push by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to include protections for the legislative filibuster. While Democrats are not yet planning to eliminate the 60-vote threshold to advance most legislation, they argue that the threat of its elimination could force Republicans to compromise with Democrats in the evenly divided Senate.

Next COVID Package Negotiations. The Biden Administration and Congressional Democrats are hoping to reach a bipartisan agreement on a package similar to President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief proposal. With the 50-50 split in the Senate, Democrats will need at least ten Republican votes to break a filibuster and advance any major legislation (assuming all Democrats vote for the legislation). To avoid gridlock on the next package, the White House is working with a group of 16 senators and two House members –which is evenly split between the parties and includes many of the members who were involved in last year’s $908 billion proposal – to further discuss Biden’s plan. While the preference is to avoid the budget reconciliation process, it remains an option for parts of the legislation if a bipartisan agreement cannot be reached.

Impeachment. The House will deliver the article of impeachment to the Senate today, and senators will be sworn in as jurors tomorrow. The trial will officially begin the week of February 8 now that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have agreed to a two-week delay in order for the chamber to have time to focus on confirming President Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees, to work on a coronavirus relief package, and to give former President Donald Trump time to plan his legal defense.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Sanders Says Senate May Use Budget Reconciliation to Pass Biden Agenda: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the incoming Senate Budget Committee chairman, said yesterday that Senate Democrats would use budget reconciliation to pass parts of President Joe Biden's agenda if Republicans refuse to support Biden's plans. (The Hill)

Health

Burgess Loses Health Panel Role After Leader Challenge: Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY) will now be the ranking Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee’s health panel, replacing Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), who had previously tried to become the top Republican on the full committee. (Bloomberg)

Banking & Housing

Senate Finance Committee Unanimously Approves Yellen: By a unanimous 26-0 vote, the Senate Finance Committee approved Janet Yellen’s nomination to become U.S. Treasury Secretary last Friday. Yellen now awaits a full Senate vote. (HousingWire)

Transportation

Senators Vet Buttigieg to Run Transportation Department: Pete Buttigieg argued for increased federal investment in the sector and fielded questions from Republicans on issues like increasing the gas tax and President Joe Biden’s executive order from last Wednesday revoking a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. (The Hill)

Defense

Senate Confirms Austin as Nation’s First Black Defense Secretary: The Senate voted this past Friday, 93-2, to confirm retired General Lloyd Austin to become Defense secretary, making him the first Black man to lead the department. The House last Thursday voted 326-78 to pass a waiver which exempts Austin from the seven-year "cooling off period" for retired generals taking over the helm of the Pentagon currently prescribed by law, and the Senate later passed the waiver on a 69-27 vote. (Roll Call)

New Senate Armed Services Chair Takes His Seat: Democrats are poised to lead defense policy from both chambers of Congress when Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) takes over as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee once a power-sharing agreement in the 50-50 Senate is finalized. (Washington Technology)

Homeland Security & Immigration

Biden’s Immigration Bill Faces Difficult Path in Senate: Both President Joe Biden and, more recently, Vice President Kamala Harris, have said their immigration bill would provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants who lack legal status in the country. (Roll Call)

Judiciary/Justice

Schumer Agrees to Two-Week Delay of Trump’s Impeachment Trial: Under the timeline outlined by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the House will deliver the article of impeachment this evening, senators will be sworn-in Tuesday, and the trial will officially begin the week of February 8. (Politico)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Budget & Appropriations

Overview of Executive Orders Biden Signed His First Three Days in Office: President Joe Biden signed dozens of executive orders, actions, and memorandums his first week in office. Many of the actions set out tools to offer aid during the pandemic and are part of his administration’s push for Congress to pass another coronavirus relief package. (The Hill)

Biden Issues National Pandemic Plan: On the one-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 case detected on U.S. shores, President Joe Biden released a national strategy aimed at curbing the coronavirus pandemic. The national plan includes standing up federal vaccination sites and more domestic production of personal protective equipment. (Roll Call)

Labor & Workforce

Unemployment Claims Stay Stubbornly High as Biden Takes Office: The number of Americans filing for new state unemployment benefits dipped to 900,000 — down from the previous week but still high by historical standards, signaling the economic challenges facing the Biden administration. (NPR)

Department of Education

Acting Secretary of Education Will Extend Pause on Federal Student Loan Payments: At the request of President Joe Biden, the Acting Secretary of Education will extend the pause on federal student loan payments and collections and keep the interest rate at 0%. (ED)

U.S. Department of Education Announces Biden-Harris Appointees: The U.S. Department of Education last Thursday announced the senior political appointees who will lead various parts of the agency. (ED)

Banking & Housing/HUD

CDC Extends Eviction Moratorium: Following one of President Joe Biden’s executive orders, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) extended the order preventing landlords from evicting tenants to March 31, 2021. (CDC)

Transportation/DOT

Joe Biden’s Business Allies Discuss Ways to Pay for Infrastructure Plan, including a Carbon Tax: One of the efforts to figure out financing approaches for an ambitious $2 trillion infrastructure spending plan is being led by longtime Biden ally and New York business leader Dennis Mehiel, along with former Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris. (CNBC)

Biden Appoints Slew of DOT Officials: The Biden Administration announced key members of its U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) leadership, many of whom are already at work in the opening days of the new Administration. (DOT)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Biden Selects NOAA Political Team as Decision on Next Agency Head Looms: The new staff of political appointees, none of whom require Senate confirmation, is headed up by Karen Hyun, a member of the agency’s Commerce Department review team, who will serve as chief of staff. Hyun was previously vice president for coastal conservation at the National Audubon Society and worked as a senior policy adviser at NOAA in the Obama administration. (Washington Post)

NASA Likely to Redo Hot-Fire Test of its Space Launch System Core Stage: Following the unsuccessful completion of a Space Launch System hot-fire test that ran for only a bit over a minute before a shutdown rather than the desired 8-minute burn, NASA is likely to conduct a second "Green Run" firing in February. (Ars Technica)

Arecibo Replacement Could Support Space Situational Awareness: A proposal to replace the giant radio telescope at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico with a new facility suggests it could be used for tracking space objects as well as for scientific research. One proposal, developed by observatory staff and submitted to the NSF, calls for replacing the giant dish with an array of up to 1,000 small dishes, each nine meters across, on a platform spanning the current dish. (Space News)

As Parting Message, Jim Bridenstine Leaves Artemis Program ‘In Good Shape’ for Biden’s NASA”: In anticipation of President Joe Biden taking office and the Senate transitioning to Democratic control, Bridenstine, a Republican, spent his final days as administrator making one last push for the Artemis program, a parting bid to insulate the program from potential cancellation. (The Verge)

Defense/DOD

National Guardsmen Begin Leaving Washington Following Controversial Deployment: About 25,000 service members were sent to guard President Joe Biden’s inauguration after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol shook officials’ confidence in their security measures for the quadrennial event. However, the Capitol appeared ill-prepared to deal with the influx of troops and while a small number will remain for several more weeks, most have now been ordered home by their Governors. (The Hill)

DHS & Immigration

Trump DHS Chief Argues for Swift Confirmation of Biden Pick Amid Hawley Hold: In a letter to the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, Kevin McAleenan pressed the committee to quickly forward Alejandro Mayorkas, the former deputy Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary tapped by Biden to lead the agency. (The Hill)

Judiciary/DOJ

Biden to Keep Wray on as FBI Director: Christopher Wray was named to head the bureau in 2017 by former President Donald Trump, who sparked controversy earlier that year by firing former FBI Director James Comey. (Politico)

Cyber

Biden Poised to Pick Obama-era Security Veterans for 3 Top Cyber Roles: President Joe Biden is likely to appoint Jen Easterly to be his national cyber director, according to three people familiar with the matter, choosing a veteran of the National Security Council and the military and intelligence communities to lead a newly created White House office that will guide his strategy and oversee agencies’ digital security, as well as Robert Silvers and Eric Goldstein to leadership roles with DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). (Politico)

After Huge Hack, Biden Security Picks Want More Cyber Coordination with Industry: Avril Haines, who was confirmed as President Joe Biden’s Director of National Intelligence, told senators that she would assess how the intelligence community can improve its cybersecurity partnerships with industry and the whole federal government. (C4ISR Net)

Agriculture/USDA

USDA Moves to Increase SNAP Benefits After Biden Executive Order: The Agriculture Department is moving forward with plans to increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to millions of Americans in response to an executive order President Joe Biden signed this past Friday. (Agri-Pulse)

USDA Announces Key Staff Appointments: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) last Wednesday announced the names of individuals who will hold senior staff positions at the agency. (USDA)

EPA & DOI

Biden Nixes Keystone XL Permit, Halts Arctic Refuge Leasing: The move deals a devastating blow to the approximately 1,200-mile-pipeline that carried oil from Canada to the U.S. and that was opposed by several environmental and indigenous groups. (The Hill)

The U.S. is Back in the International Climate Game: President Joe Biden made his first move to fulfill a promise to prioritize climate change by signing sweeping executive orders covering an array of policies and committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Among the most immediate steps is rejoining the Paris agreement, the nonbinding international pact signed in 2015 to prevent the most severe consequences of climate change. (The Hill)

EPA Welcomes Members of the Biden-Harris Leadership Team: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last Thursday announced key members of the agency’s incoming leadership team who will advance the Biden-Harris administration’s agenda to tackle the climate crisis, advance environmental justice and create clean energy jobs. (EPA)

Department of Energy

Biden Admin Overhauls DOE, Picks Acting Renewables Chief: The Biden administration is consolidating two critical Energy Department offices to elevate the agency's focus on climate change, reversing a split that occurred under the Trump administration, and Charles "Chuck" Kosak will serve as acting assistant secretary of EERE. (E&E News)

Biden Effects Regulatory Freeze, Revokes Trump Actions, Rejoins Paris Agreement: President Joe Biden just hours after his inauguration effected an immediate freeze on several Trump-era deregulatory actions that directly affect the power sector and revoked a long list of rules and executive actions affecting the bulk power system. (Power Magazine)

Democrat Glick Named to Chair Energy Regulatory Panel: U.S. President Joe Biden last Thursday named Richard Glick, a Democrat, to chair the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), where he could eventually lead the panel to consider lowering barriers for emerging clean energy technologies. (Reuters)