Some questions:

What is the aftermath of last week's insurrection in the Capitol building?
What does the Biden proposal for COVID relief hold for education?
When will we meet Secretary of Education nominee Miguel Cardona at his confirmation hearing in the Senate?

Washington Update, January 15, 2021

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Dear Colleagues:

I regret to report that the nation’s capital now looks like an armed fortress with over 20,000 National Guard members posted and more on the way.  Shops downtown are boarded up in anticipation of violence as the Inauguration approaches, and the entire National Mall will be closed to the public.  This is a transfer of power like no other



1. The Grim Ending of the Trump Presidency

This week the House responded to the riot at the Capitol by impeaching President Trump. Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD), who is my representative, summed it up like this:  a mob invaded and broke windows, beat police officers, erected a gallows and chanted “Hang Mike Pence”, stormed Speaker Pelosi’s office yelling “Where’s Nancy?”, caused five deaths and more hospitalizations and shut down the counting of electoral college votes.  “Everyone one of us could have died,” he said. 

Ten Republicans joined Democrats voting to   impeach  President Trump for inciting an insurrection against the government, making him the first President to ever be impeached twice.  Now the process moves to the Senate for a trial and possible conviction.  Rep. Jamie Raskin will represent the House and present the case to the Senate.  The timing of the trial is unclear.  It could begin as soon as January 20, Inauguration day, when the Senate reconvenes with a Democratic majority.  However, Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) could decide to wait to send the article of impeachment over to the Senate at a later date. One possibility is that the Senate could move on a dual track, conducting Senate business in the morning and holding the trial in the afternoon – in other words – walking and chewing gum at the same time.

Outgoing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) seems to have left open the possibility of voting for impeachment.  A hand full of other Republicans may vote for impeachment as well, however finding the required 17 to join Democrats to reach the conviction threshold is a tall order.   Impeaching a President after he has left office is new territory for our country.  Many speculate about what the political impact would be if President Trump is not convicted and he claims “victory” for a second time. 

The Inauguration will take place against the backdrop of an ongoing FBI manhunt, continued threats of mob violence and ongoing direct threats against Members of Congress. House Members are now authorized to buy bullet proof vests and charge the cost to the government.  Some are traveling with armed guards. Despite such threats, Biden told reporters Monday that he plans to carry on with the day's events saying, "I'm not afraid of taking the oath outside." The event is set to go ahead as scheduled, but with limited attendance and massive security precautions. On a lighter note, the Inaugural committee announced that Lady Gaga will sing the Star-Spangled Banner.

Moving vans were spotted at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue this week.  Trump appears to be moving to Mar-a-Lago in Florida, along with a number of aides and family members.  Speculation continues regarding the possibility of him pardoning himself, his family members and others allies prior to leaving office in 5 days.

2. Looking Ahead to the Biden Administration and the 117th Congress

Yesterday President Biden revealed his massive $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan hoping to jump start consideration in Congress.  The goal of the education portion of the bill is to provide enough support for a robust vaccination plan, treatment, and funding to reopen a majority of K-8 schools safely within 100 days.  The proposal provides $170 billion for K-12 and higher education.  To date, the Congress has enacted almost $113 billion for the Department of Education in COVID relief funds. 

Of the $170 billion in education funds, $130 billion would be for K-12 relief intended to cover technology needs, counseling, support for social, emotional and academic needs of students, provision of smaller classes, PPE, extra transportation, cleaning costs and more.  The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund includes $35 billion for public colleges, public and private HBCU’s and Minority Serving Institutions to provide online learning and emergency grants to students. A Governors’ fund is allocated $5 billion to support education for areas that have been the hardest hit by COVID, from pre-K through higher education.  In addition, $350 billion is made available for state and local fiscal relief, a portion of which may be used for education. Funds are provided for regular testing for teachers and students, per recommendations from the Rockefeller Foundation.

With last week’s stunning victories by Senators-Elect Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia, Democrats now hold the slimmest of majorities with a 50/50 split among Republicans and Democrats and VP-Elect Harris holding the tie breaking vote. This gives Committee chairmanships to Democrats, who are quickly developing their priorities.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will serve as the head of the Senate Budget Committee and be a key figure in crafting the COVID relief package that President-Elect Biden is calling for.  He is likely to use a powerful legislative vehicle called reconciliation, which requires a simple majority of 51 votes to pass, thus eliminating the need to bring Republicans on board. During a 15-minute interview on Tuesday, Senator Sanders stated, “I’m going to use reconciliation in as aggressive a way as I possibly can to address the terrible health and economic crises facing working people today.” Sanders pledged to spend billions to stop the spread of Covid-19 and strengthen the economy.

Reconciliation is not the only strategy available to move incoming President Biden’s policy priorities. Many progressives are pressuring President-elect Biden to use  executive action  to revamp everything from student loan forgiveness to climate change. Some Democrats see executive action as Biden’s opportunity to pass necessary legislation without having to play “wait and see” with Republicans. The push for executive action highlights a push and pull within the Democratic party: Biden is a self-described institutionalist and has indicated he prefers to work with Congress rather than move ahead on his own. A first test case is likely to be the call for increased student loan forgiveness – of up to $50,000.   

In a December briefing Biden stated that, “it is arguable that he would be able to forgive $50,000 in student debt.”  Freshman Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) said Biden’s comments were “unfortunate” and “really miss the moment.” “People like Chuck Schumer, Elizabeth Warren and myself know the opposite to be true — know it to be true that he does have the authority,” said Jones. “It is why more people like myself, more millennials, need to be represented in positions of power in our federal government, because we understand the urgency of the student debt crisis, which has crippled millions of young people.”

In the midst of all the events over the past week, President- elect Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona has been making rounds meeting with education groups and Members of  Congress. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) tweeted he spoke with Cardona on Tuesday  about the nominee’s “new vision” for the department. “There is much work to do — Betsy DeVos turned the Department into a shell of its former self — but I believe Dr. Cardona is up to the task & I look forward to working with him,” he said.  Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) also reported his own meeting  late last week, saying Cardona would bring “invaluable experience” to address the challenges facing New Mexico schools. The Senate HELP Committee, under the new leadership of incoming Chair Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), is already planning for the Cardona confirmation hearing. That may take place as early as the week of January 25. 

On Thursday, the  Biden-Harris Transition team  announced that Carmel Martin and Catherine Lhamon will be Deputy Directors of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council.  Both had roles in the Department of Education in the Obama Administration.

3. New Resources for Educators

A big shoutout to Dr. Kaitlyn Brennan for her contribution to today’s Washington Update. 

Wishing you all a peaceful weekend.  As Lester Holt says “Take good care of yourselves and each other.”

See you on twitter @janewestdc

Jane

Jane E. West Ph.D.
Education Policy Consultant
Cell: 202.812.9096
Email: janewestdc@gmail.com
Twitter: @janewestdc

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