D.C. Memo: More action on abortion, Boundary Waters bill inches forward

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act and the passage of abortion-related votes in the U.S. House.

WASHINGTON — The week began with the Biden administration moving on abortion rights by telling hospitals they must provide abortion services if the life of a mother is at risk.

The Department of Health and Human Services said the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act preempts state laws that would end or restrict abortions. These laws were unleashed in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.

“Under the law, no matter where you live, women have the right to emergency care – including abortion care,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.  “Today, in no uncertain terms, we are reinforcing that we expect providers to continue offering these services, and that federal law preempts state abortion bans when needed for emergency care.”

If a hospital is found to be in violation of the federal emergency medical treatment law, it could lose its Medicare and Medicaid provider agreements and could face civil penalties. An individual physician could also face civil penalties if they are found to be in violation.

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President Joe Biden has faced pressure from fellow Democrats to take more forceful action on abortion. But he’s limited in what he can do through executive power.

So, Democrats in Congress picked up the mantle, even though they knew their efforts would fail unless filibuster rule – which requires at least 60 votes for any legislation to pass the U.S. Senate – is eliminated.

The week ended with House votes on abortion rights on Friday. One bill would protect the right to travel for abortion services. The other would go beyond Roe v. Wade in protecting abortion rightsBoth bills passed the House, with Minnesota’s lawmakers voting along party lines.

But, like a similar bill that would codify Roe that was approved by the House in May, neither of these abortion rights bills have a chance, at this point, of making it through the Senate. So, Democrats hope the votes on the legislation frame the issue for the midterm elections.

Jan. 6 committee’s work continues

The special January 6 committee continued its work this week with witnesses that included former Trump aides, right-wing media commentators and militia members. The committee showed how the former president’s public statements led his supporters to believe incorrectly that the 2020 election had been stolen and urged them to storm the Capitol in an attempt to stop its certification.

One Trump tweet was a rallying cry for supporters, including far-right groups like the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys to come to Washington on Jan. 6,  witnesses said.

“​Big protest in D.C. on January 6th,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “Be there, will be wild!”

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During the hearing, the committee’s seventh, evidence was presented that showed that four days after the states had voted in the Electoral College, a group of Trump allies,  including lawyer Sidney Powell and Michael T. Flynn –  the retired general who had served briefly as  Trump’s national security adviser — presented the former president with draft executive orders to sign that would have used the Defense Department to seize voting machines.

In the released portions of some of the taped testimony from the former White House Counsel, Pat Cipollone said he told the Trump supporters  “It’s a terrible idea.”

Minnesota’s ‘important’ swing county

Politico said this week that Dakota County is one of just 20 “most important counties” in the nation that will determine whether Republican or Democrats rule the House and Senate in 2023.

Represented in the House by Rep. Angie Craig, D-2nd District, Dakota County is unlike the other 3,000 or so other counties whose population is “sorting into solidly blue or comfortably red territory,” Politico said.

“Dakota County is essentially split down the middle … the farmland in the southern part of the county trends red, while the Twin Cities bedroom communities to the north have become dependably Democratic. The 65,000-person-strong city of Lakeville at the county’s center, however, remains staunchly divided,” Politico said.

Republicans need to flip just five congressional seats to wrest control of the U.S. House from the Democratic Party.

Omar human rights amendment passes

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-5th District, had a victory this week with the approval of an amendment she sponsored to the massive $840 billion National Defense Authorization Act.

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Omar’s amendment would require the U.S. military to provide “a description of efforts to prevent civilian harm and human rights violations” when the Pentagon is supporting special operations for “irregular warfare” in other countries. The war on terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, was considered irregular warfare.

More than 1,200 amendments to the NDAA were introduced this week, and most were either not considered or rejected.

Although Omar had a win on her amendment, she and other House progressives voted against the NDAA, which both authorizes military spending on troops and weapons systems and establishes military policy. The progressives believe too much money is being spent on the Pentagon and too little on social programs and other needs.

“At a time when Minnesotans are still struggling with the soaring cost of basic items like food and housing, when Republicans are blocking investments in basic needs like healthcare, we should not being voting on a defense bill that doles out a record-shattering $800+ billion to the Pentagon,” Omar said in a written statement.

‘Bring the circus to town’ over mining

There was another chapter this week in the saga over the permitting of a proposed Twin Metals underground copper-nickel mine close to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday held an often acrimonious, hours-long markup of legislation introduced by Rep. Betty McCollum, D-4th District, that would permanently ban hard rock mining in a nearby watershed.

McCollum said the proposed sulfide-ore mining in the Rainy River Watershed would wreak havoc on the Boundary Waters.

“There is no room for error; no level of acceptable risk,” she said. “Once damaged, it would be damaged forever.”

At the end of the day McCollum’s bill was approved by the committee on a party-line vote.

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But not before a lot of fighting.

Like McCollum, Rep. Peter Stauber, R-8th District, is a member of the committee. Strenuously opposed to McCollum’s legislation, Stauber tried to derail it by proposing a slew of amendments that would gut the bill.

One Stauber amendment would block implementation until the secretaries of the Interior Department and Commerce Department complete an investigation of China’s “laundering slave labor-built solar panels through Southeast Asian countries.”

Another Stauber amendment would halt implementation until federal agencies access “the delays this Act may cause for American electric vehicle manufacturers and American consumers waiting to purchase electric vehicles by making domestic metals unavailable and shrinking the domestic supply chain.”  Others focused on the economic impact to Minnesota’s schools and towns by the loss of mining revenues from the proposed mine.

Stauber argued the Twin Metals project was environmentally safe and would “create jobs, good paying jobs.”

“I live in the district and these are my constituents who want these jobs,” he said.

The proposed mine would be located in a watershed that encompasses a nearly 2 million-acre area that begins in northern Cook and Lake Counties and flows northwesterly into St. Louis County and the Canadian border waters.

A Forest Service draft environmental impact statement released last month called for a 20-year moratorium on mineral development in the area. The report follows a January decision by the Department of the Interior to revoke the mineral leases held by Twin Metals for its copper-nickel project.

But McCollum and environmentalists are concerned that a change in the White House may reverse that permitting decision, which itself was a reversal of a Trump administration decision to grant permits for the mine. So they want to codify a permanent ban.

Fellow Republicans on Wednesday came to Stauber’s aid with amendments of their own. For instance, Rep. Lauren Bobert, R-Colo.,  proposed the bill not take effect until the federal government proves that any mineral resources imported for federally funded infrastructure projects to make up for minerals lost through a Twin Metals mining ban  “would not be supplied from mines that utilize child or forced labor.”

A frustrated Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., called the avalanche of amendments “throwaways.”

“They are meant to bring the circus to town,” he said.

In the end, all the GOP amendments were defeated by the panel’s Democratic majority.

Although McCollum’s bill inched forward in the U.S. House this week, there is no companion bill in the Senate.

McCollum said Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, both Democrats, are reviewing the Forest Service study.

“The senators haven’t taken a position,” she said.

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