/Capitol Hill gets crowded

Capitol Hill gets crowded


With Andrew Desiderio, Kyle Cheney and Melanie Zanona.

THE YOUNG AND THE CRUSTLESS: The &Pizza in Rayburn was swarmed on its first day open earlier this week, selling out of pizza in hours.

More reporters are roaming the halls, more staff are back in their offices, and more House lawmakers are back in person after more than a year of an eerily deserted Capitol complex. The Longworth Dunkin’ is full of staffers and reporters holding meetings. People are swarming the therapy dogs. Your Huddle host has spotted CVC tour staff in red vests out and about, even as public tours are still suspended.

But the COVID-19 pandemic is still very much a real concern for many members. “There’s some kind of tension in the air because there’s still a lot of colleagues who did not get the vaccine,” said Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.). She said many colleagues weren’t coming to committees in person because “they’re just not comfortable being in a room where they don’t know if half the people in the room haven’t even taken the vaccine.”

Others disagree. “As long as people are getting vaccinated” he was not concerned, said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.). Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) said the House should “absolutely” continue opening up, and as more members were vaccinated, “wearing masks and continuing to socially distance amongst the members doesn’t make much sense at all.”

It’s important to remember that CDC guidelines for fully vaccinated Americans still recommend masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowds in public places. Vaccinations are self-reported by members, so it’s hard to tell exactly how members have gotten their shots. Only 14.9% of the District of Columbia’s residents are fully vaccinated, according to the city’s tracker.

The House requires masks in the chamber and levies fines on members who refuse to wear them, but no such rule exists in the Senate. Your Huddle host spotted a number of senators who played fast and loose with masking on their side of the Capitol, including Sens. Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Cynthia Lummis, and Dianne Feinstein.

Related: Cruz joins Paul in ditching mask despite CDC recommendations, by CNN’s Ted Barrett and Manu Raju: https://cnn.it/3doE4f6

NOW BACK TO THE THERAPY DOGS – They continued to roam halls of the Capitol, thrilling reporters, staff, and lawmakers alike. Officer Clarence of the Greenfield, Mass. Police Department, Hank the comfort dog, and Keeva the therapy dog posed for selfies, shook paws, and just fell asleep. Clarence, sporting a “PTSD Dog” tag, is a police comfort dog and has helped people in the aftermath of tragedies including the Sandy Hook and Las Vegas shootings.

Clarence’s handler, Lt. William Gordon, told your host that after the trauma of the last several months, the K-9 First Responders, a Connecticut-based nonprofit, made an offer to the Capitol Police to come to the Capitol and to help staff and officers.

They’d come to the Capitol intending to help the Capitol Police but ended up spending time with far more people who wanted to see the dogs. Even President Joe Biden had given Clarence a hug and a kiss following Officer William Evans’ memorial service, Gordon explained.

“You might remember this time that you had in the last couple months, but you also remember that time that you had with a dog,” he said.

FULL HOUSE It’s the hottest ticket in town. No, we’re not talking about Beyonce’s first post-pandemic concert; we’re talking about President Joe Biden’s first address to Congress.

Attendance to this year’s stately affair, slated to take place on April 28, is going to be limited because of the pandemic, with only about 200 people permitted inside the chamber for the prime-time speech. So some Democrats are already scrambling to secure their spot, report Mel and Sarah. “It’s a difficult situation,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who has informed leadership he wants a seat. But “I’m glad it’s happening. … None of us are taking it too personally.”

It’s still unclear how party leaders plan to divvy up the limited batch of tickets, though the general sense on the Hill is that leadership and maybe committee leaders will probably get first dibs. But not everyone who wants to attend will make the cut. “I don’t blame them for being disappointed,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). “But given the medical constraints, and the concerns about the president, and given the size of the chamber, you have no choice.” The colorful story from my colleagues Melanie and Sarah: https://politi.co/32jHl91

IMPEACHMENT CASH GRAB — The 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach President Donald Trump were the center of the political universe in January. Some of those high-profile Republicans (think: Liz Cheney or Adam Kinzinger) raised record hauls, and half brought in more than $500K — pretty good for the start of an off-year after voting to impeach the president of their own party.

Here’s the full list, compiled by Sarah:

1. Rep. Liz Cheney ($1.5 million) / 2. Rep. Adam Kinzinger ($1.1 million)/ 3. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler ($744,755) / 4. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez ($616,524)/ 5. Rep. Peter Meijer ($519,741) / 6. Rep. John Katko ($436,291) / 7. Rep. Tom Rice ($404,731) / 8. Rep. Fred Upton ($360,392) / 9. Rep. David Valadao ($321,288) / 10. Rep. Dan Newhouse ($289,493)

Not all the dollars are welcome, though. Katko told CNN’s Annie Grayer he was going to give the $2,000 his campaign got from Rep. Matt Gaetz to charity, joining Valado and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is giving donations from Gaetz away.

More on the big FEC filing day: Eric Greitens was biggest donor to own Senate campaign, by McClatchy’s Bryan Lowry: https://bit.ly/2QrwZBe | 2024 GOP contenders collect cash, by POLITICO’s Benjamin Din: https://politi.co/3x2RRiS | Election objectors leaned on small donors after corporate PAC backlash, by Zach Montellaro, Theodoric Meyer, and Allan James Vestal: https://politi.co/3uPLbCQ

HAPPY Friday! Welcome to Huddle, the play-by-play guide to all things Capitol Hill on this April 16, where your Huddle host is sad that Officer Clarence won’t be on the Hill any longer.

THURSDAY’S MOST CLICKED: The Hill’s story on how the race debate is gripping Congress was the big winner.

AOC’S AUTO-ENROLL — Aides for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) informed fellow Democrats on Thursday that the office will be reintroducing the Green New Deal next week — and that their bosses were about to be auto-included.

The email from Ocasio-Cortez’s staff, obtained by POLITICO, stated that if any cosponsor from the 116th Congress didn’t want to be included again, they would need to specifically “opt out.” And that stuck out to some recipients, who described it as a much different way of doing business in the House. In most years, lawmakers typically reach out cosponsors and have them sign on every new session of Congress. But for the roughly 100 cosponsors of the Green New Deal last session, they were told they’d need to specifically “opt out of cosponsorship.”

CAUCUS CONFAB – The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus held its first meeting of the year with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, a former CAPAC member herself. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) told your host in a brief interview later Thursday it was a “very productive meeting” for about an hour on everything from anti-Asian hate crimes to the importance of Asian American history.

Chu gave Biden a letter asking for an independent Department of Justice investigation into the Georgia shootings, and he told the lawmakers he understood the importance of keeping politics out of the department. Lawmakers like Chu have expressed concern the local investigation into the shooting that left eight people dead, including six Asian women, would not be carried out adequately.

Biden invited CAPAC back “in the next three to four weeks,” said Rep. Kaiali’i Kahele (D-Hawaii). He’d brought up Native Hawaiian issues and the need to disaggregate federal data that group Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in with other ethnicities or simply label them as “other.”

Chu, Kahele, Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), and Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) all took part. Chu said Domestic Policy Council director Susan Rice and Office of Public Engagement director Cedric Richmond also joined.

MY WAY FOR THE HIGHWAY — Several key Dems are floating a possible solution to that GOP buy-in problem on infrastructure: pass one part with Republicans, and the rest without. “Why wouldn’t you do that?” Sen. Chris Coons said.

But of course, it’s not that simple. Dems argue it’s bad politics to let Rs off the hook on the tougher part of the equation: the pay-fors. Plus, it’s not clear they can actually agree on even a slimmer package, as shown by the divisions in the moderate Senate’s “G-20” group call on Thursday. The prospect for that two-part package shows the Democrats’ dilemma this spring: Should they work with their GOP colleagues and risk a letdown, or fulfill as much of Biden’s plan as they can on their own?

The clock is ticking. House Dem leaders still want to pass their part by July 4, though members acknowledge the real deadline is likely this fall, when Congress must pass its surface transportation bill. More from Marianne, Burgess and Sarah: https://politi.co/3slVGMz

Related: Dems weigh narrower health ambitions for infrastructure package, by Alice Miranda Ollstein and Susannah Luthi: https://politi.co/3uTxOBD | Democrats hand their foes a weapon as they weigh a filibuster loophole, by Jennifer Scholtes and Caitlin Emma: https://politi.co/2QyX5CA | California lawmakers taking a softer tone on restoring a tax break Californians lost under Trump, by the L.A. Times’ Sarah Wire: https://lat.ms/3gmYeHU

RUSSIA ROLLOUT Republicans offered mild praise for Biden’s rollout of new penalties against Russia on Thursday — but said the president should have gone further. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), the ranking member on the Banking Committee, said the sanctions were a “welcome step” but called for additional actions to halt the Russia-to-Germany gas pipeline Nord Stream 2.

And Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), the Foreign Relations panel’s ranking member, had this to say: “I commend the administration for these actions, but I consider them less than a half step forward. What is missing is a robust effort to actually stop the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.”

As we reported earlier this week, the Justice Department rescinded its legal signoff for new sanctions targeting the pipeline, which is more than 95 percent complete. Biden’s political opponents and allies alike on Capitol Hill have been making noise about the lack of action, even as Biden’s top officials have telegraphed forthcoming new measures to stop construction of the pipeline, which would be a massive boon to Moscow.

Time is running out, and lawmakers are clearly growing frustrated with the lack of action. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is delaying consideration of several Biden State Department nominees, told POLITICO that the president risks “giving away an enormous bipartisan victory that we won last year stopping that pipeline.”

CAPITOL POLICE WOES — Capitol Police sent “unarmed and unescorted” civilian employees into the Jan. 6 mob to help resupply officers, the department’s inspector general confirmed Thursday — a startling admission that underscored what he described as major failures to prepare for the assault. “There were civilians placed in something like that,” Inspector General Michael Bolton told the House Administration Committee, under questioning from Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.).

Bolton said the startling revelation could have been prevented had police pre-staged a secure area inside the Capitol with additional munitions. Bolton is in the midst of a year-long review of the security posture of the Capitol Police and the lapses that led the Jan. 6 assault to spiral out of control. He intends to issue monthly “flash reports” that he anticipates will lead department leaders to tackle major reforms.

WAPO WITH THE GAETZ DEEP DIVE – The Washington Post has their tick-tock (not TikTok) out on the federal investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz. What started as a Justice Department investigation into a local tax collector has grown into an investigation threatening to bring down one of Trump’s top allies in the House. Read the full story from the Washington Post’s Matt Zapotosky and Michael Scherer: https://wapo.st/3tszAcL

Related: McCarthy: I’ve met with Gaetz, he professed innocence, by Quint Fogey: https://politi.co/3x2Vy8g

ALL EYES ON PENNSYLVANIA – POLITICO’s Holly Otterbein has a profile of Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman. It’s worth a read: https://politi.co/2Qs7vUu

TRANSITIONS

Kenny Roberts is joining the Invariant government relations team. He was previously the director of federal relations for the American Petroleum and has worked at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Hillary for America.

Michael Collins is now special assistant to the president and director of public engagement and intergovernmental affairs for the VP’s office. He previously was chief of staff and floor assistant for late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

TODAY IN CONGRESS

The House will meet at 9:00 a.m. for legislative business.

The Senate is out.

AROUND THE HILL

9 a.m. The Atlantic Council holds a webinar on transatlantic trade. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), among others, participates.

Noon. Washington Post Live hosts a virtual discussion on the 117th Congress with Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).

TRIVIA

WEDNESDAY’S WINNER: Joe Bookman was the first person to correctly guess that Jessie Woodrow Wilson Sayre, the daughter of President Woodrow Wilson, was both married in and gave birth to a child in the White House.

TODAY’S QUESTION: What’s the largest statue in Statuary Hall?

The first person to correctly guess gets a mention in the next edition of Huddle. Send your answer to [email protected].

GET HUDDLE emailed to your phone each morning.

Follow Nicholas on Twitter: @nicholaswu12

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