Rocky Days Ahead

Budget Challenge, George Gone, Heated Campaigns

Good morning from Washington, D.C. where a shutdown looms in 51 days with only 19 legislative days remaining and, man alive, there is a long, long way to go.   The Big Four, House Speaker Mike Johnson, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have not begun negotiations on the four spending bills that need to advance in January, in part because the leaders have not even agreed on a top line spending number!  Additionally, Congress does not have a plan to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a law that empowers our intelligence agencies to proactively address foreign threats, though Speaker Johnson has floated the idea of linking this with the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Congress has yet to begin discussions in earnest about an aid package to Israel, additional support for Ukraine, or steps to shore up the Southern Border. There will not be a shutdown in December thanks to last month’s Continuing Resolution (CR) but goodness, things are rocky. 

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) bought himself some time when he passed a laddered CR, but the real challenge will be getting a permanent spending measure across the finish line. Many House Republicans, including the Freedom Caucus and more conservative members, want the Speaker to renege on the spending totals agreed to by former Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the White House during the debt limit fight in May. That top-line figure-- $1.586 trillion--was a result of months of negotiations and ultimately garnered support from mainstream House Republicans, House Democrats, and strong bipartisan support in the Senate. Johnson would likely have the votes to bypass objections from his right flank, but it could cost him his job. See: Kevin McCarthy.  

The White House was hoping that their offer to Congressional Republicans of border funding in exchange for aid to Israel and Ukraine would be a clean swap, but nothing in Washington is that easy. President Biden’s $106 billion aid request to Congress has hit a snag, with Democrats skeptical of conditioning aid to Israel and objecting to making it more difficult for migrants to seek asylum. Republicans have largely opposed foreign aid, especially to Ukraine, and feel as though the President’s plan does not go far enough to address border security. Senate Republicans have been negotiating a plan with their Democratic colleagues to enact stricter asylum standards, limit the President’s executive authority to temporarily admit migrants, and expand the number of “safe third countries” that migrants must first claim asylum in before entering the United States.  

While Senate Leadership has remained optimistic they can come to an agreement, they have also expressed doubt that Speaker Johnson will be able to get any agreement through the House. Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) offered, “Even if we get a majority of Republicans [in the Senate], it will be a steep hill for Speaker Johnson.” Heritage Action, an influential conservative activist group, is already sounding the alarm over a potential border deal. In a statement, President Kevin Roberts said, “House and Senate conservatives should reject this proposal and commit to supporting H.R. 2 to restore safety and security for the American people, anything less is unacceptable.”

If that is not enough, Congress has a handful of other items that must be addressed by the year’s end. Reauthorizing the authority of the Federal Aviation Administration has been stalled for months over disagreements regarding pilot-training requirements. Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Senator John Thune (R-SD) both indicated last week that they were closing in on an agreement and that a committee vote could be scheduled as soon as this week. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual defense bill that sets policy and provides funding for our armed services, has not been spared from partisan in-fighting but House Armed Services Committee Chair Rep. Mike Rodgers (R-AL) remains hopeful they can come to an agreement, offering “I'm optimistic we will find a reasonable compromise that both chambers can support. What everyone here needs to understand is, we will enact an NDAA this year.” Less promising is Rep. Jim Jordan’s (R-Ohio) proposal to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) as Leadership is eyeing a short-term FISA extension into the beginning on 2024, possibly passed through the NDAA. There are just 9 days remaining where the House and Senate are both scheduled to be in session before the end of 2023.  

On Friday, lawmakers used what little legislative time they have left to vote on a resolution to expel Rep. George Santos (R-NY) from Congress. Santos had escaped two previous expulsion votes, however, both of those were before the House Ethics Committee released a scathing report that found Santos repeatedly used campaign funds for personal expenses.

At one point, it seemed as though Santos would escape accountability yet again, with House Speaker Mike Johnson and the rest of the House GOP Leadership coming out against expulsion. Other conservative Republicans also opposed the measure, including Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN) who offered “We’re all a bunch of sinners.” In the end, the resolution had more than enough bipartisan support and Rep. Santos became only the sixth member to ever be expelled from Congress by a margin of 311-114. He is the first to be expelled without either a conviction or for having served the Confederate States of America.  Of New York’s 26 Congressional members, 22 members voted for expulsion. Rep. Santos, Rep. Claudia Tenney, and House GOP Conference Chair Rep. Elise Stefanik voted against the measure with Rep. Ocasio-Cortez voting present.  

In the end, the resolution had more than enough bipartisan support and Rep. Santos became only the sixth member to ever be expelled from Congress by a margin of 311-114. He is the first to be expelled without either a conviction or for having served the Confederate States of America.

In a press conference the day before the vote, Santos hinted he may consider a future run though the overwhelming, bipartisan rebuke of his antics likely put cold water on that idea. Instead, Santos will have to face a 23-count federal criminal indictment for wire fraud and money laundering. On his way out of the House chamber after the vote, Santos scoffed “to hell with this place.”  

Governor Hochul was closely watching the vote (literally) and said she is prepared to call a Special Election to fill the now-vacant 3rd Congressional District. That means New York will now have two special elections next year following Rep. Brian Higgins’ (NY-26) announcement that he will be stepping down from Congress in February.  

“Even if you don’t have to give up your seat, you have to give up your life…”

That from our Jack O'Donnell who joined WBEN’s ‘A New Morning’ team to talk about the politicians interested in running for the 🔥 NY-26 Congressional District.

🎧 here.

Lawmakers in New York also have a lot to do get done. There are still over 150 bills that were passed by the Legislature that are still waiting on action from Governor Kathy Hochul before the New Year. The Legislative New Year will officially kick off on Tuesday, January 9 at 1:00 p.m. when Governor Hochul will deliver her State of the State Address from the Assembly Chamber in the NYS Capitol.

The fight over a bill to move some local elections to even years has received bipartisan condemnation from Republican and Democratic Election Commissioners in Albany County who, in a letter to Governor Hochul, summarized “We believe this legislation is incomplete and cannot accomplish the intended goal.” Editorial boards, most prominently Newsday, also oppose the measure. Proponents of the measure have argued that brining local elections in line with Presidential Elections will increase voter turnout and will be more cost effective. Others, including the New York State Association of Counties, have contended that local races will be overshadowed by national candidates with whom they will be fighting for media airtime and voter attention. The State Board of Elections is split on the bill, with Democrats supporting and Republicans against.   

Lawmakers and activists held a rally in Albany last week to urge the Governor to sign their bill outlawing employers from requiring non-compete agreements as a condition of employment.

Senator Sean Ryan (D-Buffalo), a sponsor of the bill, said “The truth is that one in five Americans are subjected to non-compete agreements. Here in New York state, over 40% of the employers use non-compete agreements.” He has argued that the practice of using non-competes has become too widespread and is disproportionately affecting working class people. The Governor has indicated she is sympathetic to those concerns, but also had to weigh their usefulness for C-Suite executives and other high-income earners. Speaking to reporters, she said, "I have to strike the balance to make sure we take care of lower and middle income workers up to, say $250,000.”  

In campaign news, Democrat Liz Whitmer Gereghty, the sister of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, announced she is suspending her campaign to be the Democratic nominee in New York’s 17th Congressional District.

In a statement, Whitmer said “Uniting our party and focusing our resources on taking back the House is critical to fighting back against the radical extremism plaguing our politics. In that spirit, I endorse Mondaire Jones' campaign for Congress.” Jones will now be able to turn his full attention to the general election matchup against freshman incumbent Rep. Mike Lawler. Democrats see the seat as a key to winning back their House majority and Jones, a former member of Congress who was the odd man out in the 2022 redistricting saga, was recruited as a candidate to aid in that effort.  

Westchester County Executive George Latimer, rumored to be seriously considering a primary challenge against incumbent Rep. Jamaal Bowman in NY-16, visited Israel this past week with a delegation of other local officials.

The group met with the families of the victims of the October 7th attacks as well as members of the Israeli government, including President Issac Herzog. If Latimer were to run for Congress, one of the biggest contrasts between him and Rep. Bowman would be Latimer’s support for Israel. Bowman, a member of the liberal “Squad” and former Democratic Socialist, has been an outspoken critic of Israel and refused to sign a resolution in support of the country last month. Responding to Bowman’s calls for a permanent ceasefire, Latimer said “You can’t take hostages, keep them, then say ‘OK, let’s negotiate now, let’s be nice, let’s have peace now.” Bowman recently picked up the endorsement from the Working Families Party in New York, signaling the strong support he still maintains among progressives.  

The Democrats are not the only ones who recognize New York’s Congressional races could very well end up deciding which party controls the House.

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) was in New York this past weekend for a number of fundraisers to support New York’s GOP incumbents. Among the stops were a fundraiser specifically for Rep. Mike Lawler in Westchester County, who represents a district won by 10 points by Biden in 2020. Johnson also attended a fundraiser for the GOP fundraising committee “Grow the Majority,” hosted by Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman and lobbyist Wayne Berman. Prices for that event ranged from $3,300 for a single ticket to $100,000 for a host sponsorship. One of the biggest tests for Speaker Johnson will be his ability to fundraise for his caucus which is one of the main jobs of the House Speaker. Former Speakers Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy were both prolific fundraisers and whether Johnson can continue that trend remains to be seen.  

Perhaps the biggest news of the week? Cookie Monster’s cookie receipt


Farewell to Shane MacGowan of the Pogues.  One line from this obituary struck me: For the fans who listened to his music while making last orders in urban pubs, MacGowan seemed to tap into to an ancient muse, one that Gaelic bards had used to spin tragedy into sweetness hundreds of years ago. Here, in honor of the season, is Fairytale of New York.  

Megaphone icon

Congrats Jack!

Jack and young Jack on his Dad’s campaign trail

The #MTV generation is keeping NYS rocking!

Congratulations to our Jack O'Donnell for being named to the first-ever City & State NY’s Above & Beyond: Gen X power list of leaders getting stuff done & making their mark on NY.

City and State NY writes: It was summer 1996, and Jack O’Donnell was waiting for his post-college job to start at a government agency. Meanwhile, he impulsively hitched a ride to the Democratic National Convention – and ended up working on the Clinton-Gore campaign.

He never did take that government job. “Once you’ve been on a campaign, it’s hard to go back,” says O’Donnell, now a managing partner at his government relations and public affairs firm.

In the quarter-century since, O’Donnell has worked on countless campaigns. Most memorably, he worked to elect U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer in 1998 “when he was 50 points behind in the primary,” O’Donnell says. “My mother told me I should get a real job.”

O’Donnell not only helped convince Upstaters to elect the Brooklyn candidate, he ultimately went on to work for the senator. Last month, Schumer was back in Buffalo to announce a regional tech hub. “He’s really kept that promise to upstate New York, and I’m happy to have been part of it,” O’Donnell says.

Indeed, while most of his ambitious peers have left Buffalo, O’Donnell is devoted to fortifying his home region. He recently helped secure funding for the Strong National Museum of Play’s $120 million expansion, and for the University at Buffalo’s new engineering building.

But O’Donnell’s most meaningful campaigns have been the ones he ran for his mother, an attorney general candidate, and his father, a state Supreme Court judge. “Getting to do that for your parents, after all they’ve done, was a highlight,” he says.

More information on the recognition here.

A surge of lawmakers calling it quits the past three weeks is on the verge of putting Congress on pace to have more members retire before the next election than in any similar cycle over the past decade. And the implications are huge. [Read more.]

Jim Gaughran joins our Alec Lewis ‘From the Lobby’ to talk about his extensive background in state & local politics, his vision for the 1st Congressional District and his campaign in this heated race in 2024 that could decide party control of the House.

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This Day in History

December 4, 1619: 38 colonists from Berkeley Parish, England disembark in Virginia and give thanks to God. This is considered by many the first Thanksgiving in the Americas.


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