Peter Friedmann’s View from Washington DC – February 2024
The number one topic on every Member of Congress’s mind right now, during this election year is whether he or she keeps his/her job come November 4 and if they do, what kind of job it will be. Every Member of the House and about a third of the Senators are up for election. While there are a few retirements, almost all are seeking re-election. They may publicly complain about the dysfunction on Capitol Hill, but they rarely actually want to leave.
The number two topic on every Member’s mind, even those Senators who are not up for reelection, and even those who have ‘safe’ seats with no realistic challenge to their relection, is whether they will be in the Majority or Minority. Currently the Republicans have a razor thin majority in the House, while the Democrats have a razor thin majority in the Senate. Just one or two Members of the House or Senate lose their relection, and those majorities change. When the Majority changes, really everything changes. Committee and Subcommittee chairs are always Members of the Majority party. The Speaker of the House who determines what legislation will be considered (and what bills/amendments will not be voted on), is the leader of the Majority party. Similarly (although not precisely the same), the Majority Leader of the Senate has the power to decide what will be considered or not.
An example, particularly in Presidential election years, are impeachment inquiries and votes, of which we’ve seen several – Clinton, Trump, now Biden. The Speaker of the House and the Committee Chairs can either initiate or prevent any impeachment inquiries and votes. As we’ve seen, a Republican Majority has pursued impeachment vs Democratic Presidents (Clinton and currently Biden), while Democratic Majority has voted impeachment of Republican President (Trump). Particularly during a Presidential election year such as the one we are in now, impeachment becomes a tool campaign tool.
Very relevant to the PCC brokers and forwarders is the establishment of Select Committees. Under Democratic Majority, the House established a Select Committee to investigate the invasion of the Capitol and the role of President Trump. As soon as the House Majority shifted to Republicans, that Select Committee was terminated. Replaced by the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party. In fact, the offices of the January 6 Committee were emptied, and entirely new staff of the “China Committee” moved in. The China Committee is leading inquiries into forced labor, trade practices, military and economic aggression, deminimis, etc. While the Select Committees do not wield legislative authority, cannot advance legislation, they can and do conduct hearings, investigations which can lead to actual legislation advanced by the permanent or ‘standing committees’. The attention to deminimis by the Select Committee is now motivating or supporting further scrutiny of deminimis by members of the relevant standing committee (Ways and Means) which has legislative jurisdiction over this topic.
Currently, after their focus on getting re-elected and keeping or gaining the Majority, a few issues have risen to the top. Consistent with the election year, the issues getting legislative attention are those which are perceived as impacting the election results. Chief among these is Southern Border immigration. While Republicans and Democrats have, broadly speaking, had opposite views – Republicans/Trump pursuing strict immigration controls, Democrats/Biden reluctant to do so – that had changed, rather dramatically, in recent weeks. President Biden announced a more aggressive position, very close to the Republican position on immigration. Why the sudden change – the polling on immigration is clear, both Republican and Democrats see the same data – voters are concerned, and all politicians want to be on the ‘right side’ of this issue. Even now, as the PCC is in DC, an immigration bill is being negotiated, between Senate, House and the White House. The objectives are to gain some control over the massive and unregulated flow across the southern border, and to gain political campaign advantage.
Another topic where the polling data determines a similar position of both R’s and D’s is trade. Namely, the Trump China Tariffs, which President Biden chose to retain. In the approximately 6 years since first imposed, not one Congressperson or Senator, neither R nor D has offered any legislation, resolution, amendment to rescind or even reduce those tariffs. Tariffs are popular and never more so, than in an election year. For PCC brokers and forwarders, whose livelihoods are dependent upon imports and exports, the popular attacks on the international trade, pose a threat.
Foreign policy can be tricky and during an election year, many Members of Congress hesitate to navigate, for fear of alienating various US constituent groups. For this reason, for months, aid to Ukraine, Israel has been subject to these concerns, and stymied on Capitol Hill.
Today, the challenges by Iran to US forces, and US responses, and uncertainty as to possible spreading conflict, are capturing the press and public’s attention. While there are a few members of Congress who are already vocal, how the majority (both R’s and D’s) engages on this conflict remains to be seen.
What an incredibly fascinating (and dangerous?) time in our Nation’s history.