D.C. Memo: Get your popcorn ready! Jan. 6 hearings come to prime time
WASHINGTON – With the U.S. House and U.S. Senate out this week on a Memorial Day break, the town had the feeling of a calm before the storm.
When lawmakers return to the Capitol next week, they will face votes on tough gun measures in the U.S. House and the start of Jan. 6 hearings; both events certain to increase partisan rancor.
Televised hearings on the Jan. 6 insurrection are set to begin on June 9, with at least two expected to be held in prime time for maximum exposure. After that, the special committee of seven Democrats and two Republicans will report its findings sometime before the midterm elections on Nov. 8.
The two Republicans that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi named to the panel, Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, are both Trump critics who have become regular targets of attacks from the former president and members of their own party.
The hearings aim to tell a more complete story about what happened the day of the storming of the U.S. Capitol and what sparked the violence and lawlessness as a crowd of Trump supporters tried to stop Congress from certifying the result of the presidential election.
Former President Donald Trump and his Republican allies continue to call the probe a witch hunt focused on scoring political points.
Like most of the rest of the members of Congress, Minnesota’s lawmakers are expected to split along party lines on the findings of the hearings.
Meanwhile, as families in Uvalde, Texas, buried the young victims of a mass shooting at an elementary school, Democrats in Congress took two very different approaches to try to curb gun violence. In the Senate, a bipartisan group is trying to win agreement on a modest proposal, likely aimed at inducing states like Minnesota that don’t have red flag laws to adopt them.
Red flag laws, known also as “extreme risk protection orders” and “risk warrants” allow law enforcement and family members to temporarily remove firearms and ammunition from a person who is believed to present a danger to himself or herself or others. Congress cannot force states to adopt red flag laws — 19 states and the District of Columbia have done that on their own. But it can offer grant money and other incentives to states to adopt red flag laws.
The Senate legislation would also include new school safety and mental health programs.
Meanwhile, the House is planning a series of votes next week on several gun bills, including one similar to the Senate’s legislation, that would establish a federal red flag law. Another bill would ban the sale of semiautomatic rifles like the ones that killed the children in Uvalde earlier this month and was used in the shooting death of four people in Tulsa, Okla., this week.
But the center piece of the House Democrats’ effort is the “Protecting our Kids Act,” that will also be voted on next week. The legislation, would do a number of things, including barring the sale of semiautomatic rifles to anyone under 21, ban high-capacity ammunition magazines, prohibit the sales of “ghost gun” kits, boost penalties for illegal “straw purchases” of guns and require gun owners to store their weapons safely, especially when minors are present.
At a contentious hearing Thursday on the Protecting our Kids Act, Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee pleaded for support of the gun measures.
“God knows we need action,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas.
Meanwhile, Republicans on the panel said the Democratic efforts would impinge on Second Amendment rights and do nothing to stop what’s become a steady beat of mass shootings.
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the committee, chastised Democrats for rushing to take up the package, calling it “regretful” and an act of “political theater.”
High employment, rising prices and a boost to farmers
The Federal Reserve issued its latest report on the economic health of the nation this week, saying the Minneapolis sector’s economy “grew moderately since mid-April.”
“Demand across sectors remained strong, but higher input and labor costs put downward pressure on profit margins,” the Federal Reserve said. “Construction and real estate contacts reported some slowing due to interest rate increases. Demand for credit among minority- and women-owned business enterprises was down amid uncertainty about the economy.”
The nation is divided into 12 Federal Reserve districts. The Minneapolis Fed covers Minnesota, Montana, North and South Dakota, 26 counties in northwestern Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
In its latest report, the Minneapolis Fed said employment grew strongly in the region since the last report, issued in April and labor demand in the sector was also expected to accelerate in coming months.
It said that labor costs in the hospitality, manufacturing and construction industry rose by at least 5 percent. The report also said a large Minnesota manufacturer said turnover in low-skilled jobs “is very high.”
“They keep chasing wages and don’t show up for their job. It’s hard to keep a low-skilled job filled for one year,” the unnamed manufacturer said.
The report also said inflation continues to plague consumers and businesses in the sector. But the good news was the report said that “district agricultural conditions remained strong.”
“According to the first-quarter (April) survey of agricultural credit conditions, 87% of respondents reported increased farm incomes relative to the same period a year earlier. Farmland values increased briskly. However, due to an exceptionally cold and wet spring, crop planting and progress were well behind schedule in much of the district, except for Montana and western portions of the Dakotas, where drought conditions were rampant,” the report said.
Phillips, Craig seek more money to recruit police
Democrats have come under attack because the progressive wing of the party demanded the nation “defund the police” after the death of George Floyd at the hand of Minneapolis police two years ago. Most of these progressive Democrats want demilitarize police departments and funding reallocated from uniformed officers to trained mental health and social workers in the hopes of fostering better community relations and preventing abuses.
Still, GOP attacks that paint Democrats as soft on crime are expected to proliferate this campaign season.
Two Minnesota Democrats with GOP challengers this year are backing a different approach from the “defunders.” They want to provide more funding recruit police officers that are in short supply in many police departments across the nation, including those in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Rep. Dean Phillips, D-3rd, has introduced the Pathways to Policing Act, which would set up a new $50 million program in the Justice Department that would help state and local law enforcement agencies recruit new officers through a national marketing campaign modeled after the one the Defense Department uses to recruit soldier, sailors and airmen.
The bill would also provide another $50 million to police departments that establish Minnesota-styled “Pathway to Policing” programs that provide financial assistance to potential police recruits and local recruiting efforts.
Priority for the grants to states, local governments and law enforcement agencies under this program will be given to applicants seeking to build a diverse police force that represents the communities they serve.
Rep. Angie Craig, D-2nd, is one of the nine sponsors of the bill, some of whom are Republican.
“In order to create a pathway toward more effective policing, we must ensure that our local police departments have the resources and support to enlist well-trained members of our own local communities,” Craig said.
The bill has been introduced late in the congressional session and, like most bills introduced by members of Congress, may not move forward. But it has the backing of several Minnesota police groups and a national police chiefs organization.
A delayed memorial
Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s dad, Jim Klobuchar, died at age 93 a year ago. But COVID-19 prevented the Democratic senator and her family from holding a memorial for Jim Klobuchar, who worked as journalist for decades in Minnesota. But for the Klobuchar family the waiting is over, the long-delayed memorial is planned for Friday at the Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.
“My dad went from that hardscrabble mining town of Ely, Minnesota, to travel the world, interviewing everyone from Mike Ditka to Ginger Rogers to Ronald Reagan,” Amy Klobuchar said. “He used his words to stand up for people. But he also stood up for me, from urging me on to finish a father/daughter 10-day, 1100-mile bike trip from Minneapolis to Jackson Hole, to believing that a woman could actually win a Minnesota U.S. Senate seat.”