Congress Avoids a Shutdown … For Now

Happy Friday! Is a trip to North Carolina really complete if you don’t stop by the local Cook Out? Obviously not for President Joe Biden, who joined North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper at the southern staple and ordered a bacon cheeseburger, fries, and a milkshake—“triple thick,” by the ice cream fiend’s own account. 

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) announced Wednesday evening that its forces had conducted their fifth strike in a week against Iran-backed Houthi militia targets in Yemen, eliminating 14 anti-ship missiles. “These missiles on launch rails presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and U.S. Navy ships in the region and could have been fired at any time, prompting U.S. forces to exercise their inherent right and obligation to defend themselves,” CENTCOM said in a statement. The strikes come amid continued Houthi attacks on commercial ships traversing the Red Sea.
  • The House and Senate on Thursday passed a continuing resolution (CR) extending government funding—set to expire, for some agencies, on Friday at midnight—at current levels through March 1 and March 8. This bill mimics the previous extension, passed on November 15, which “laddered” funding for certain agencies to Friday and February 2. The measure passed the Senate 77-18, and in the House, where some Republican hardliners were opposed to extending the government’s funding for the third time, the CR passed 314-108, with 107 Republicans and 207 Democrats voting in favor. President Biden is expected to sign the bill into law later today. Both chambers will have to move the remaining appropriations bills before March 1 and March 8 in order to fully fund the government for this fiscal year, which began on October 1.
  • The Justice Department found “cascading failures” in law enforcement’s handling of the May 2022 shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, according to a report released on Thursday. The review—the result of a 20-month investigation—provides a detailed accounting of “leadership, decision-making, tactics, policy, and training” failures by law enforcement, chief among them a decision not to classify the scene as an “active shooter” event. That resulted, the report concluded, in “a 77-minute gap between when officers first arrived on the scene and when they finally confronted and killed the subject.” Most of the local officials in charge during the shooting were fired or retired in the months following the incident. Had law enforcement acted more quickly that day, “Lives would have been saved, and people would have survived,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in Uvalde on Thursday. 
  • Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court on Thursday in support of Donald Trump, as part of the case addressing whether Colorado can remove the former president’s name from the ballot under the 14th Amendment’s insurrection clause. In the brief, Cruz and Scalise argued that the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling “directly interferes with Congress’s express authority to remove a Section 3 ‘disability’ during the election season,” and “adopted a malleable and expansive view of ‘engage in insurrection,’ which will easily lead to widespread abuse of Section 3 against political opponents.” In addition to Cruz and Scalise, 177 other Republican lawmakers signed onto the brief, including House Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Another Incremental Funding Plan

House Speaker Mike Johnson returns to his office at the U.S. Capitol on January 18, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)
House Speaker Mike Johnson returns to his office at the U.S. Capitol on January 18, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)

The most important piece of legislation under consideration in Congress yesterday was H.R. 2872, a bill to amend the Permanent Electronic Duck Stamp Act of 2013. The proposed changes would allow hunters who purchase migratory fowl hunting permits (aka duck stamps) to use an electronic version of the stamps as proof of purchase instead of having to wait for a physical copy to arrive from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Sadly for the duck hunters out there—but not too sadly because a bill to this effect did become law last month*—H.R. 2872 was brought up by the Senate as a legislative trojan horse. Lawmakers gutted the text and used it as a shell for a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded through March. Lawmakers gutted the text and used it as a shell for a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded through March. Thanks in part to an impending “snowstorm” canceling votes on Friday [Midwestern Editor’s Note: Can we really call one or two inches of powder a storm?], lawmakers passed the CR on Thursday, sending it to President Joe Biden’s desk just a day before part of the government would have shut down.

House Speaker Mike Johnson has insisted the CR he spearheaded last fall that funded the government from November to January would be a one-off. “I do not intend to have the House consider any further short-term extensions,” he wrote to his colleagues in a letter last month. One rebrand later, Johnson opted to kick the can down the road again, working with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to pass another “laddered” CR. The stopgap measure maintains current government funding levels through March 1 for four of the 12 appropriations bills that fund the government, and through March 8 for the remaining eight. 

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