Cheney, Thompson applaud Oath Keepers verdicts: ‘A victory for the rule of law’

Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) applauded the convictions of several members of the far-right Oath Keepers group on Tuesday for their roles in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

“Today’s convictions are a victory for the rule of law and reinforce the fact that the violence of January 6th included a deliberate attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election and block the transfer of presidential power,” the chairman and vice chairwoman of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot said in a statement.

Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers, and Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs were both found guilty of seditious conspiracy , an infrequently used charge that carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

The other three members of the far-right group on trial were found not guilty of seditious conspiracy but were convicted on other charges. All five Oath Keepers were found guilty of obstruction of an official proceeding and four were found guilty of tampering with evidence.

Thompson and Cheney lauded their committee’s role in demonstrating that the Oath Keepers and other extremists group began to plan and coordinate in response to former President Trump’s call to assemble on Jan. 6, 2021.

“Individuals involved now face the consequences of taking part in a scheme to undermine American democracy,” Thompson and Cheney said. “It’s vital that there be accountability for every vile aspect of January 6th and the events that led to that day’s tragedy.”

The Jan. 6 committee, which is set to sunset at the beginning of the next Congress, is expected to release its final report next month.

Four more members of the Oath Keepers will go on trial in December over their roles in the Jan. 6 riot, as will several members of the far-right Proud Boys group.

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The Rock rights his wrong at Hawaii 7-Eleven store

HONOLULU (KHON ) – The Rock is paying it back in more than one way.

Recently, Dwayne Johnson visited his childhood 7-Eleven store to pay back what he took years ago. 

Johnson posted on his Instagram account saying “We were evicted from Hawaii in ‘87 and after all these years – I finally got back home to right this wrong.”

He is referring to stealing a king-size Snickers bar from his neighborhood 7-Eleven. He didn’t steal a Snickers bar once – he stole one bar every day for almost an entire year. 

Just like the popular chocolate bar’s slogan, “You’re not you when you’re hungry,” Johnson admits these actions had been eating at his conscience for more than 30 years.

“I was broke as hell, so I used to steal a king-sized Snickers every day from 7-11 for almost a year when I was 14 years old, on my way to the gym,” Johnson wrote. 

He said after more than three decades, he has exorcised this chocolate demon that has been gnawing at him all this time. 

“I’ve exercised [sic] a few big demons over the years (I still have a few left;) so I know this one seems very silly,” said Johnson. “But every time I come back home to Hawaii and drive by 7-11 I always knew I needed to go in and clean out every Snickers bar they had – the right way.”

That’s exactly what he did, Johnson walked into the 7-Eleven he used to steal from and bought every Snickers bar on the shelf, costing him close to $300.

You can watch Johnson walk into the 7-Eleven store and pay it back on his Instagram page .

“We can’t change the past and some of the dumb stuff we may have done, but every once in a while, we can add a little redeeming grace note to that situation,” said Johnson. “Maybe put a big smile on some stranger’s faces.”

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House holds moment of silence for late-Rep. Donald McEachin

Lawmakers held a moment of silence in the lower chamber on Tuesday to honor the late-Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.), who died on Monday night after a long battle with cancer.

House members stood on the floor in between votes for roughly 40 seconds to honor McEachin, who had served in the lower chamber for nearly six years. Virginia Sens. Mark Warner (D) and Tim Kaine (D) were present for the moment of silence.

McEachin, who has represented Virginia’s 4th Congressional District since 2017, died from “secondary effects of his colorectal cancer from 2013,” according to his office. He was 61.

“Valiantly, for years now, we have watched him fight and triumph over the secondary effects of his colorectal cancer from 2013,” the congressman’s chief of staff, Tara Rountree, said Monday in a statement . “Tonight, he lost that battle, and the people of Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District lost a hero who always, always fought for them and put them first.”

The congressman had two surgeries in the summer of 2019 following “ongoing complications” connected to treatment he received for his cancer, according to ABC 8News . The operations kept him outside Washington for roughly three months to recover, per the Virginia Mercury .

McEachin was first elected to the House in 2016. Prior to that, he served in the Old Dominion’s state Senate and House of Delegates.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) ordered that all flags at the Capitol be flown at half-staff in honor of McEachin. The White House did the same.

Before the moment of silence, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), surrounded by members of the Virginia delegation, called the late congressman “a thoughtful and principled legislator respected by members on both sides of the aisle.”

“This body has lost one of its most dedicated public servants and fiercest advocates for justice and equality, and he will be deeply missed,” he added.

Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) said McEachin was “an incredible leader” and “loved serving others.”

He said he first met McEachin “in passing” when the pair were in high school because they were students at rival schools. They went on to serve together in the Virginia House of Delegates.

“What an individual. A person of integrity, a person of passion, dedicated to the people that he served,” Wittman said. “He loved being a legislator. He loved solving problems for people. He loved interacting with people. He just loved the whole idea of giving of of himself and putting others first.”

“That truly was what Donald was about,” he added.

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Medicare is cutting critical cancer care funding — it’s time for Congress to step in

Over the past decade, hospital-driven acquisition of independent physician practices nationwide has been well-documented. According to one report , the pandemic accelerated this trend, with hospitals gobbling up over 3,200 physician practices in 2019 and 2020 alone, resulting in an 8 percent jump in the number of hospital-owned practices. This underscores the pressure independent physicians are facing as they navigate rising administrative and financial burdens.

Consolidation raises out-of-pocket costs for patients and increases costs to the overall health care system with no evidence of increased quality or efficiency. Policymakers say they want to lower health care costs, yet the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is once again pursuing policies that will exacerbate consolidation pressures.

Community cancer clinics offer tremendous value to patients, as they provide access to high quality care in the most cost-efficient setting, close to patients’ homes and support systems. Unfortunately, Medicare’s Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) Final Rule for 2023 is the latest in a wave of payment cuts that threaten to critically destabilize Americans’ community cancer practices. Physicians, including community oncologists, are currently facing an alarming 4.5 percent cut during one of the most economically turbulent times in recent history.

Oncology has one of the highest rates of consolidation , largely driven by payment disparities across different sites of service. This means that Medicare pays different rates for the exact same patient for the exact same service depending on whether the service is provided in the physician office setting or in the hospital outpatient setting, which is often more expensive. For example — because patient cost sharing is based on a percent of the total charge — a patient may pay twice as much for cancer treatment if they receive care in the hospital outpatient department instead of a physician’s office.

This payment disparity also creates a financial incentive for hospitals to acquire community oncology practices. According to the nonpartisan Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) , “payment differences across settings encourage arrangements among providers—such as the consolidation of physician practices with hospitals—that result in care being billed at the payment rates of the provider with the highest rates, increasing program and beneficiary spending without meaningful changes in patient care.”

And yet, Medicare is slashing reimbursement to community oncologists at the same time it is increasing reimbursement to hospital outpatient departments. While physician practices are set to see a significant decrease due to the -4.5 percent cuts mentioned above, hospital outpatient departments are set to see a +3.8% increase  from CMS in 2023. These cuts make no sense, neither from a fiscal or logical standpoint. Unless addressed by Congress before the end of this year, these cuts will be devastating to independent practices and predictably result in further hospital-driven consolidation.

Fortunately, Reps. Ami Bera, MD (D-Calif.) and Larry Bucshon, MD (R-Ind.) have introduced bipartisan legislation , which would go a long way toward stabilizing struggling practices and safeguarding cancer patients’ access to high value care. By blocking much of these cuts from coming into effect on Jan. 1, the Supporting Medicare Providers Act of 2022 (H.R. 8800) would extend a critical lifeline to physicians, including the community oncologists that thousands of Americans rely on for quality cancer care.

Congressional action has averted disaster before; lawmakers’ leadership is desperately needed again this year. It’s not too late for Congress to protect access to community cancer care. I urge Congress to quickly pass the Supporting Medicare Providers Act of 2022 so that America’s community cancer care providers can continue providing innovative, life-saving care to America’s cancer patients.

Marcus Neubauer, MD, is the chief medical officer of The US Oncology Network .

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Biden, Congress race to avert economy-shaking railroad strike

A potential railroad strike has thrown President Biden a holiday curveball and pushed Congress into crisis mode, scrambling to finalize a federal fix to stave off an economy-rattling freight shutdown at the end of next week.

Biden hosted the top four congressional leaders at the White House on Tuesday, less than a day after he’d urged Congress to break the impasse between rail companies and unionized employees that’s threatened to freeze much of the nation’s freight system on Dec. 9.

Shortly after the gathering, House Democratic leaders said they’d rush a resolution to the floor Wednesday morning, where it’s expected to pass with bipartisan support despite reservations from lawmakers on the fringes of both parties.

“This is about whether or not we shut down the railroads of America, which would have extreme, negative impacts on our economy,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters as he announced the vote.

The proposal has been panned both by liberals, who said it doesn’t go far enough to help rail workers, particularly when it comes to sick leave benefits, and by conservatives, who are attacking the very notion that the federal government would “meddle” in a private sector dispute. And Hoyer stopped short of saying it has the votes to pass. 

“We just got back,” he said. “We’re counting.” 

All sides agree that a rail shutdown would debilitate an already fragile economy heading into the holidays, and top lawmakers in both parties appeared ready to push the bill through, saying they had no other choice. 

“At this late hour, it is clear that there is little we can do other than to support this measure,” Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), the ranking Republican on the House Rules Committee, said Tuesday as the bill was sent to the floor. “The clock is running out, and the president has made clear that this resolution is necessary to avoid a costly strike at the nation’s railroads right as we go into the holiday season.”

The heavier lift will be in the Senate, where 60 votes will be needed to avoid a GOP filibuster — a bar that will be tougher to top if liberal senators also oppose the measure. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said it’s too early to know how many Republicans will get on board.

“There are mixed views, and you’ll just have to work a little harder and talk to our members about it,” he told reporters in the Capitol. 

Under a 1926 law, Congress has the power to intervene in labor disputes between railroad companies and their workers — a power designed to prevent interruptions in vital interstate commerce. Since then, Congress has tapped that authority 18 times to avoid strikes, according to the Chamber of Congress

In September, the Biden administration had brokered a last-minute deal between the rail carriers and union leaders that averted a strike before the midterm elections. But train workers at one of the largest rail unions, SMART-TD, voted it down, citing the absence of new paid sick leave benefits in the White House deal.

Those same concerns are at the center of the current dispute. Union leaders pressed for 15 days of paid sick leave, but the White House’s tentative agreement only provided one additional personal day — a significant difference that is drawing ire among union workers and left-leaning lawmakers.

The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters — the third-largest rail union in the U.S. — has argued that depriving employees of sick leave will worsen supply chain problems rather than alleviate the snafus.

Liberal lawmakers are jumping on that bandwagon, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who blocked legislation in September that would have forced workers to accept the agreement without paid leave. Tuesday afternoon, he vowed to block consideration of the resolution until the Senate votes on his amendment guaranteeing seven paid sick days for rail workers.

“At a time of record profits in the rail industry, it’s unacceptable that rail workers have ZERO guaranteed paid sick days,” Sanders wrote on Twitter.

With the House poised to vote on Wednesday, liberals in the lower chamber have joined Sanders in bashing Congress’s heavy hand. 

“No worker in America should have to choose between their health and a paycheck,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a deputy whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, wrote on Twitter. “I will not vote in favor of any rail agreement that comes to the House floor without adequate sick days and the support of rail workers.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) acknowledged that the resolution is imperfect, citing the absence of new sick leave benefits. But she’s also defending the resolution as the last best chance to avert a strike — and economic disaster. 

“I don’t like going against the ability of unions to strike, but weighing the equities, we must avoid a strike,” Pelosi said as she left the White House. “Jobs will be lost, even union jobs will be lost, water will not be safe, products will not be going to market, we could lose 750,000 jobs, some of them union jobs. That must be avoided.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), another liberal icon, said she recognizes the dangers of crippling the economy with a rail strike, but added that “it’s also powerfully important that workers not be forced to show up injured or sick to work because they can’t get a handful of sick days from their employer.”

She wants to give the unions more time to negotiate.

“Right now, we need to keep pushing the parties to find an agreement,” Warren said. “There’s plenty of money for these rail companies to provide a few sick days for the people that are actually doing the work.”

The concerns have not gone unheard, but Biden and top Democrats are nonetheless plowing ahead with the congressional fix, contending that the risks of a strike are too dire to ignore.

Asked if Biden would support including paid leave in the resolution, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stressed the need to protect the agreement that has support from a majority of unions.

“The president’s not going to take any action that would undermine the urgent need to avert a harmful rail shutdown. That’s the way that the president sees this,” Jean-Pierre said. “Again, he’s the president for all Americans.”

The decision to intervene in the rail negotiations is a personal one for Biden, who as a senator in 1992 was one of six to vote against emergency legislation that ended a two-day rail shutdown, one of the 18 times Congress has intervened in such matters.

In his Monday statement calling on Congress to intervene amid the stalemate, Biden touted his pro-union bona fides while underscoring the threat a rail strike poses.

“As a proud pro-labor President, I am reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement,” Biden said. “But in this case — where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families — I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has not specified when the House resolution would be considered in the upper chamber. But he’s stressing that Congress has no time to lose. 

“While the actual deadline of the railroads being shut down is the 8th, our real deadline is sooner than that because … many of the people who, many of the suppliers, if they believe there may well be a shutdown, will then not send their goods,” Schumer said.

“So the real deadline is sooner and we’re going to try to solve this ASAP.”

Al Weaver and Alex Gangitano contributed reporting.

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Hillicon Valley — Musk abandons Twitter’s COVID-19 rules

Twitter under new CEO Elon Musk quietly rolled back enforcement of its COVID-19 misinformation policy, adding to critics’ concerns about how the billionaire is running the company.  

Meanwhile, advocacy groups are ramping up pressure for lawmakers to vote on two key antitrust bills before the end of the year through a new ad featuring a deep fake of Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and a letter to the White House.  

This is Hillicon Valley, detailing all you need to know about tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. Send tips to The Hill’s Rebecca Klar and Ines Kagubare. Someone forward you this newsletter?

Twitter stops enforcing COVID rules

Twitter is no longer enforcing its policy  about COVID-19 misinformation as part of changes made under new CEO Elon Musk.  

Twitter did not formally announce the change, but a note was added to the top of the page about the policy to say that the rule was being rolled back.  

“Effective November 23, 2022, Twitter is no longer enforcing the COVID-19 misleading information policy,” the note stated

The platform suspended more than 11,000 accounts for violating the policy between January 2020 and September 2022, according to data published by Twitter

  • The cessation of the policy’s enforcement is part of changes Musk has made since closing his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter at the end of October. He has pledged to create a “free speech” platform, detailing a vision for having less content moderation measures in place in a way that critics have warned will lead to more hate speech and misinformation on the site. 
  • Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, called the rollback of the COVID-19 misinformation policy an “irresponsible decision” that puts lives at risk and “opens the floodgates to those who spread deadly lies.” 

Read more about the change .

A new approach to the antitrust push

A tech advocacy group used a deep fake of Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg in an ad mocking Congress for inaction over antitrust reform  and urged a vote on a pair of bipartisan bills before the end of the year.  

Demand Progress Action’s ad launched Tuesday features the Zuckerberg deep fake toasting Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) for upholding their “side of the bargain” by “holding up new laws that hold us accountable,” according to a copy of the ad  shared with The Hill. 

“Thank you for your service to me and all of my friends,” the deep fake of Zuckerberg states as the ad flashes to a screen showing the CEOs or founders of Apple, Google and Amazon.  

  • The ad ends with a note disclaiming that “the Zuck is fake, but the message is real,” and urges constituents to call Schumer and urge a vote on antitrust bills before the end of the year while Democrats still control both chambers. Throughout the ad there is also text staying “#FakeZuck” in the corner as the deep fake is speaking.  
  • Portions of the 2.5-minute video will air as TV ads in Washington, D.C., and New York, according to Demand Progress Action. 

Read more here .  

WHITE HOUSE PRESSURED ON RECUSAL

Advocacy groups urged the White House to recuse the director  of the office of legislative affairs from interacting with Congress about key antitrust bills targeting tech giants, pointing to her past work as public policy director at Facebook.  

Revolving Door Project and six other groups said despite there being no legal requirement to recuse Louisa Terrell, the White House should “adopt a higher standard in this matter,” and insist on a recusal, according to a copy of a letter exclusively shared with The Hill.  

The letter was sent Tuesday to White House chief of staff Ron Klain. 

  • In addition to Terrell’s past at Facebook, the letter cites a Bloomberg report  that in outreach to Capitol Hill, Terrell rarely mentioned the antitrust legislation and pivoted conversations to other tech issues, such as data privacy. 
  • The White House told Bloomberg Terrell has been supportive of the legislative effort and rejected claims that she was disengaged. 
  • The Hill reached out to a White House spokesperson for comment on the letter. 

Read more about the letter .

MUSK TO RELEASE ‘FREE SPEECH’ FILES

Elon Musk said “files on free speech suppression” will soon be published  on Twitter as he pushes for less content moderation on the platform.  

Musk announced  the plan in a tweet on Monday, saying “The public deserves to know what really happened.”  

“This is a battle for the future of civilization. If free speech is lost even in America, tyranny is all that lies ahead,” he said in another tweet  later on Monday. 

The Twitter and SpaceX CEO’s announcement comes as he has restored multiple high-profile accounts that were suspended for violating the platform’s policies and pushed back against accounts being suspended in many cases.  

Read more here

GOOGLE AI TO AID BREAST CANCER SCREENINGS

Medical technology iCAD Inc. announced on Monday it has signed a commercialization agreement with Google Health to utilize its artificial intelligence technology for the improvement of breast cancer screenings

In a statement , iCAD said Google will be licensing its AI tech for “breast cancer and personalized risk assessment.” This marks the first instance in which Google has entered into a commercial partnership to use its AI imaging technology for clinical practice. 

  • Google said in its own statement  that its mammography AI technology will be incorporated into iCAD’s products. According to both companies, the ultimate goal of this partnership is to improve breast cancer detection and assessment of short-term personal cancer risk. 
  • “Joining forces with Google marks a historic milestone for our Company, as leveraging Google’s world-class AI and Cloud technology elevates the caliber of our market-leading breast AI technologies and may also accelerate adoption and expand access on a global scale,” said Stacey Stevens, iCAD’s president and CEO. 

Read more here

BITS & PIECES

An op-ed to chew on: Digital needs funding for its ‘social justice’ movement moment  

Notable links from around the web: 

Sympathy, and Job Offers, for Twitter’s  Misinformation Experts (The New York Times / Tiffany Hsu) 

UK waters down internet rules  plan after free speech outcry (The Associated Press / Jill Lawless)

☕ Lighter click: You can’t take it from us

One more thing: $57M for 3D moon bases

A Texas-based company that aims to 3D-print  future moon and Mars bases received $57 million from NASA this week. 

Austin-based ICON received the five-year contract  to build out construction methods to fabricate future roads, landing pads and habitats from lunar or Martian materials. 

“In order to explore other worlds, we need innovative new technologies adapted to those environments and our exploration needs,” Niki Werkheiser, a director at NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, said in a statement. 

The grant is a continuation of an existing partnership  to develop construction methods that allow infrastructure to be built from lunar or Martian soil, according to NASA. 

Read more here .

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Technology  and Cybersecurity  pages for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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Qatari official says between 400 and 500 migrant workers died in World Cup projects 

A Qatari official leading the country’s World Cup says that between 400 and 500 migrant workers died in connection with tournament projects, far higher than the government’s previous counts, but still well below some projections. 

“The estimate is about 400. Between 400 and 500. I don’t have the exact number. That’s something that’s being discussed,” Hassan al-Thawadi, the secretary-general of Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, told journalist Piers Morgan on TalkTV this week.

Morgan pressed Al-Thawadi in the matter, saying some would argue the death toll is too big a price to pay.

“One death is a death too many, plain and simple,” Al-Thawadi said.

The official insisted that health and safety standards on the country’s World Cup sites are “most definitely” improving each year, but admitted that “improvements have to happen.” 

The Qatari government had previously put the death toll at well under 100.

The Supreme Committee overseeing the World Cup later said Al-Thawadi was referring to “national statistics covering the period of 2014-2020 for all work-related fatalities (414) nationwide in Qatar, covering all sectors and nationalities.”

Last year, The Guardian reported that more than 6,500 migrant workers had died in Qatar during the decade of its World Cut preparations.

The comments add to ongoing humanitarian concerns about the workers who built up Qatar’s stadiums and infrastructure to hold this year’s international tournament — and other controversies about the host country.

At the start of the tournament, seven European teams said FIFA threatened them with sanctions if they went through with plans to wear rainbow-printed armbands to support LGBTQ rights. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Global challenges, North American solutions

Initially planned for November 2022, the North American Leaders Summit (NALS), appears set to return on Jan. 9-10, 2023, in Mexico City. As is often the case, U.S. attention is elsewhere — Ukraine, the midterm elections, and runaway inflation — and our own neighborhood has been accorded a lower priority than it deserves. But for many of these same reasons, the meeting is an opportunity for the United States and its region that should not be missed.

Geopolitical competition is growing sharper, energy prices have shot up, the climate is shifting, and supply chains are shaky. These factors are forcing changes to the model of Globalization 1.0 as it emerged over the past three decades. Companies that long prioritized lower labor costs, logistical efficiency and working capital optimization above all else now must give greater weight to international uncertainty, a supply chain in disarray, and the pressing need for sustainability.

To prepare itself for Globalization 2.0, the United States should start closer to home — with a plan to create North America 2.0. 

In that light, the next North American Leaders Summit presents a timely opportunity to begin. President Biden ought to arrive in Mexico City with a bold vision for invigorating trilateral cooperation where that is needed and feasible — and for  bolstering U.S. leadership in the world through its broader neighborhood.

Instead of being seen as an opportunity to strengthen the United States, North America has too often served as a scapegoat for problems it undoubtedly caused in certain areas. It is blamed for shifting job markets or depicted as a source of insecurity. But it also has accounted for significant economic growth, job creation, and a massive increase in trade. In any event, the ample opportunities North America offers have not been grasped — and could again slip away absent inspired leadership informed by just how much the world is changing. 

Together, North America boasts an enviable array of strategic comparative assets to be developed in the new world order that is emerging. Our continental region has eminently favorable demographics, enormous conventional and renewable energy resources, and a massive and foundational shared production platform. While intra-regional disagreements certainly exist, it remains a zone of enviable geopolitical stability. North America’s societies are interwoven — and they share a widespread (if imperfect) respect for democratic values and practices. 

Together, trade among the three core North American partners — Mexico, Canada and the U.S. — now amounts to $1.5 trillion annually. Much of that is in advanced sectors like automobiles, aircraft, and medical devices. Services trade is booming, too. Because of the closely knit nature of North American economies, this trade provides greater economic benefit at home. Investments in Canada and Mexico amplify gains in the United States and vice-versa.

But to capitalize on those advantages, we need to rethink how the United States and its neighbors relate to one another. In fact, as supply chains are reconfigured and near-shoring is pursued, North America has never been more important for Canadian, Mexican, and U.S. business communities than it is right now. Better managed migration flows, coupled with real investments in workforce development and cross-border mobility, will boost our advantages and improve people’s well-being. Investments in infrastructure and regulatory coordination could make North American supply chains more efficient and stable than today’s far-flung, energy-hungry alternatives. North America can lead an energy revolution that adds to livelihoods while responding to climate change today.

The process of rethinking North America started with the renegotiation of the 1994 North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) into the U.S.-Canada-Mexico Agreement (USMCA) of 2020. This update offered some real improvements in areas like digital trade and protection of workers’ rights. However, the USMCA emerged in the confrontational context of tariffs, border walls, and threats. As a result, the USMCA did not offer a platform for growing together — or an agenda to pursue it. 

Though these solutions are close to home, they too often are overlooked. Since the Second World War, the United States has cast its gaze far afield in keeping up with its geopolitical challenges, devoting inconsistent attention to its closest neighbors. Despite this neglect, there is no denying any longer the critical importance of Canada and Mexico — and the smaller countries of Central America and the Caribbean basin as well — for the United States’ own security and prosperity. Because our societies and economics are so interconnected, investments in these relationships can pay crucial, needed dividends at home.

Alan Bersin is a global fellow and the Inaugural North America Fellow at the Wilson International Center for Scholars. He served as Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection during the Obama Administration. Tom Long is associate professor of International Relations at the University of Warwick. Together, they are editors of the new book, “North America 2.0: Forging a Continental Future .”

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NotedDC — Georgia race enters make-or-break week

Georgia has one week to go in its bitterly fought Senate race, though it may feel like a lifetime for incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) and the GOP’s Herschel Walker.

Warnock, a local pastor, and Walker, a former football star, have duked it out the past three weeks leading up to the Dec. 6 runoff as polling shows a tight race .

More than 500,000 ballots have already been cast through early and absentee voting, with early voting available  in all 159 counties through Friday.

If it feels like déjà vu for Peach State voters, there’s a reason: It’s the second time in two years the Georgia Senate seat will be decided after the general election.

And while Democrats are already set to control the Senate come January, pulling off a victory would add to their midterm wins and give them some breathing room.

We chatted with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Greg Bluestein  — a top guide on the ground in Georgia — to learn more on how things are going before the runoff:

——

NotedDC: What is the feeling on the ground? Do people seem super interested in the race or the national attention?

Greg Bluestein: There’s a sense of exhaustion. More than $300 million has been spent on ads alone in Georgia this election cycle, and thousands of staffers and tens of thousands of volunteers are knocking on doors, sending texts, making phone calls and finding other ways to connect with voters. And there’s a sense of déjà vu since Georgia hosted such a momentous runoff just last year. Think about it this way: U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock’s name has now been on the ballot five different times since November 2020 — all for the same job.

NotedDC: What is the national media getting wrong about this race? 

GB: I’ve noticed a knack, especially before the midterm, to write off Herschel Walker because of his history of violent behavior, lies and exaggerations and considerable personal baggage. A generic candidate with those issues wouldn’t have made it out of a primary. But, thanks to his iconic status in Georgia due to his football career, Walker entered the race with almost universal name recognition and support from both Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell. Democrats never took his candidacy lightly.

I’ve also seen some outlets frame Walker as a Donald Trump-created candidate, like some Republicans in other races who were plucked out of obscurity by the former president because of their fealty to him. But while Trump and Walker have a decades-long relationship — Walker played for Trump’s pro football team in the early 1980s — Walker would likely have won the nomination without Trump’s support and certainly hasn’t emphasized him on the campaign trail.

And when it comes to Warnock, I think the biggest question is not how he got dragged into a runoff against a candidate as divisive as Walker — but how he managed to almost win the race outright while every other Democratic statewide candidate in Georgia lost by sizable margins. Walker’s troubled candidacy is part of the reason. But Warnock has also run a disciplined and determined campaign aiming not just for the Democratic base but also middle-of-the-road swing voters who played a decisive factor in the outcome. Some 200,000 voters backed Gov. Brian Kemp and not Walker — and Warnock has worked to keep that split-ticket trend alive during the runoff. 

NotedDC: How does this year compare to the last runoff when Warnock was elected? 

GB: The stakes are far different. In the 2021 runoff, control of the U.S. Senate was on the line and Trump was actively trying to overturn Georgia’s election results to prevent Joe Biden from taking office. Now, Democrats have already clinched control of the Senate and Trump is effectively sidelined. 

The strategies are far different, too. In 2020-21, Warnock hardly mentioned the name of his opponent, then-Sen. Kelly Loeffler. He focused instead on his support for Biden’s agenda and how Democratic control of the Senate would clear the way for more coronavirus relief funds, voting rights expansions and other left-leaning priorities. In this contest, he’s focused specifically on the contrast between him and Walker — and framed himself as a bipartisan figure willing to work even with archconservatives like Ted Cruz if it helps Georgians.

NotedDC: Do you feel like Trump has much impact in the race? He hasn’t announced any big in-person trips to campaign for Walker in the final stretch. 

GB: At the urging of senior Republicans here, Trump is steering clear of an in-person rally in Georgia. His attempt to defeat Kemp and other mainstream Republicans in the primary failed miserably, and polls show the governor is far more popular in the state than Trump. Walker’s campaign has tried not to antagonize the former president — and Walker enthusiastically backed his comeback bid — but they prefer to keep him at arm’s length in the closing days of the race to avoid further energizing Democrats. 

–––––

Read more from The Hill’s Julia MuellerWhere the Warnock-Walker race stands

This is NotedDC, looking at the politics, policy and people behind the stories in Washington. We’re The Hill’s Liz Crisp and Amée LaTour. Sign up online here or in the box below.

🗓 Dems’ 2024 question: If not Iowa, then what?

Iowa has held  the first presidential nominating contest since 1972. That could change for Democrats in 2024.

  • The Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) Rules and Bylaws Committee meets Dec. 1-3 to set the next presidential nominating calendar.
  • Sixteen states  and Puerto Rico pitched themselves to hold contests before the first Tuesday in March. The committee will pick four or five states to do so.

The considerations: The committee is weighing criteria including racial and geographic diversity, general election competitiveness and “feasibility,” which CBS News  reported includes considerations like whether states can shift their contest into the earlier window or run a “fair, transparent and inclusive nominating process.”

Iowa’s population is largely white , its general election results are largely red and the 2020 Democratic presidential caucus wasn’t exactly smooth .

State of play: New Hampshire, which has held  the nation’s first presidential primary since 1920, is more likely to remain in the early window, political scientist Josh Putnam and Morley Winograd, who chaired the DNC Commission on Presidential Primaries and Delegate Selection from 1974 to 1978, told NotedDC.

State law puts the secretary of State in charge of setting the primary date and dictates it be the first primary in the nation by requiring the primary be scheduled seven days before a similar contest. Meanwhile, Iowa law  says its caucuses are to be held before other states’ nominating contests.

Putnam, author of the Frontloading HQ  blog, said Iowa’s caucus would be easier to move than New Hampshire’s primary.

“The Iowa Democratic Party controls the scheduling of their caucuses,” he said, adding that there are “no clear penalties for violation” of the state law.

The DNC rules  penalize states that defy its calendar by reducing their delegate strength by half and say candidates who campaign in those states “shall not receive pledged delegates or delegate votes from that state.”

Along with New Hampshire, recent early states Nevada and South Carolina are likely to make the 2024 cut, according to Winograd and Putnam. The big question: Which midwestern state will, if not Iowa?

The clear front-runners: Winograd, who chaired  the Michigan Democratic Party from 1973 to 1979, says either Michigan or Minnesota could replace Iowa as an early midwestern state — and he expects the White House to weigh in on the calendar this week.

He said in addition to meeting the Rules and Bylaws Committee’s criteria, these states share “a unique population…the former mining territories of the…upper Midwest states.” He noted the media market may be more expensive in Michigan.

Putnam sees Michigan as the most likely midwestern state to take an early spot, “whether that means replacing Iowa or joining them in the early window.”

As for how a calendar change might affect campaigning, Putnam said that “if one takes any lesson from 2020 … Democrats and those observing (and reporting on) the process will discount the results in states that don’t match well with the overall Democratic primary electorate.”

While candidates will still campaign in New Hampshire, “the emphasis may change. Campaigns may spread their time and resources more evenly across the early states.”

Congress hits ground running in final stretch of 2022

Chuck Schumer

Congress’ legislative agenda for the next few weeks is packed, ranging from same-sex marriage to a rail worker labor agreement to funding the government. 

The Senate appears set to pass the Respect for Marriage Act this week, following several procedural votes. Then it’s on to the House.

The potential for the Supreme Court to overturn same-sex marriage protections has been a topic of discussion since the court overturned Roe v. Wade this summer. 

“The bill as it currently stands would officially repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and require state recognition of legal same-sex and interracial marriages,” The Hill’s Brooke Migdon and Al Weaver wrote , “but would not codify the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same-sex unions nationwide or prevent the high court from eventually overturning the landmark decision.”

Also front and center on Congress’ agenda is legislation to avert a rail strike, which could begin Dec. 9. Four unions rejected a tentative agreement reached in September that included higher wages and an increase in medical care for those whose pay was frozen, our colleague Jared Gans wrote . The unions want paid sick days added. 

In a statement  Monday, President Biden said Congress should adopt the tentative agreement “without any modifications or delay.”

  • Biden said, “As a proud pro-labor President, I am reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement. But in this case — where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families — I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal.”
  • Biden said Congress “should get this bill to my desk well in advance of December 9th so we can avoid disruption.”  

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said  Tuesday that legislation would be on the House floor Wednesday morning. 

Biden met  with both parties’ top Senate and House leaders Tuesday to discuss legislative priorities. Along with averting the rail strike, Biden said he hoped they were “going to work together to fund the government, COVID and the war in Ukraine.” 

Dec. 16 is the deadline to pass a government funding bill and avoid a shutdown. The options  before Congress are to pass new spending legislation (known as an omnibus) or to pass another continuing resolution. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said  Tuesday that an omnibus was preferable, and Pelosi said a yearlong continuing resolution was an option if an omnibus isn’t possible.

(Learn more about the differences between these options from the Government Accountability Office .)

McCarthy on tightrope heading toward Speaker vote

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) is moving quickly to try to lock down the 218 votes needed to win the speakership in January.

And he knows it’s not a done deal.

In an interview with Newsmax this week , McCarthy warned that Democrats could take the speakership if GOP members “play games” and split the vote.

“We have to speak as one voice. We will only be successful if we work together, or we’ll lose individually,” he said. “This is very fragile — that we are the only stopgap for this Biden administration.”

Between the lines: McCarthy has announced  he wants to pursue impeachment for Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over immigration issues at the U.S.-Mexico border if the Biden Cabinet member doesn’t resign before January.

It was an early look at how the GOP leader hopes to win over holdouts in his caucus.

Ten House Republicans have backed 21 articles of impeachment against Biden and his top officials since he took office in 2021, including Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz), who mounted a campaign against McCarthy’s leadership bid.

Other GOP holdouts who have said they won’t support McCarthy — Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Ralph Norman (S.C.) and Bob Good (Va.) — have also pushed to impeach  the Biden official.

Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), who has also voiced concerns, is viewed as likely to vote no, too. A spokesperson has said  he’d only vote for McCarthy under “extreme circumstances.”

Republicans currently hold 220 seats in the House, with at least two midterm races still outstanding. McCarthy, 57, has little room for error leading up to the Jan. 3 vote.

What to expect from a split government: Republicans in the House have vowed to hold hearings and launch investigations into the Biden administration and Hunter Biden.

The House GOP leadership and Senate Democratic leadership will have to come together to pass needed legislation on the federal budget and debt ceiling, but tensions are high even as McCarthy has said he’s committed to bipartisanship. 

“I can work with anybody. We want to make sure our country is successful,” McCarthy told reporters during a lengthy interview outside of the White House on Tuesday after leaders met with the president. 

FUENTES DINNER REACTIONS

Republican senators returned from the holiday break ready to unload on former President Trump’s controversial dinner with white nationalist Nick Fuentes, decrying the former president’s meeting with an outspoken antisemitic commentator.

Trump said on Truth Social that Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, invited people to the dinner at Mar-a-Lago without Trump’s knowledge. 

Some GOP senators’ reactions: 

  • Minority Whip John Thune (S.D.): “That’s just a bad idea on every level … I don’t know who’s advising him on his staff, but I hope that whoever that person was got fired.”
  • Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.): “There’s no room for antisemitism or white supremacy in the Republican Party. Period.”
  • Sen. Bill Cassidy (La.): “President Trump hosting racist antisemites for dinner encourages other racist antisemites. These attitudes are immoral and should not be entertained. This is not the Republican Party.”
  • Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah): “There’s no bottom to the degree which he’s willing to degrade himself and the country, for that matter. Having dinner with those people was disgusting.” 

Our colleagues Alexander Bolton and Al Weaver have more on reactions from Republican senators here .

⚽️  WORLD CUP

The U.S. men’s soccer team defeated  Iran 1-0 in the World Cup on Tuesday, securing a victory in the most politically charged game in decades.

The teams met in Qatar amid heightened tensions between their two countries over anti-government protests in Iran.

  • The match comes after Iranian state media called  for the U.S. to be banned from the World Cup after the U.S. Soccer Federation displayed altered images of the Iranian flag that removed a symbol associated with Iran’s clerical leaders.
  • In a press conference, an Iranian reporter also confronted U.S. team captain Tyler Adams for mispronouncing “Iran.” Adams, 23, apologized.

🛤  BRIEFLY

  • A top rail labor official says their union does not want to go on strike but wants fair treatment, a day after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Congress would try to pass legislation  to block a national strike that could cripple supply chains.
  • Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) died Monday night after a long battle  with cancer. Pelosi has ordered flags to be flown at half-staff at the Capitol in his honor. White House flags also will be lowered.
  • The Supreme Court is resuming public tours  after shutting off the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.  
  • Actor Will Smith has addressed  “the slap” — saying he “lost it” after comedian Chris Rock made a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, at the Academy Awards. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

Alice Marie Johnson told TMZ  she knows she’d still be in federal prison if not for Kim Kardashian‘s efforts to convince former President Trump.

The Financial Times took a deep dive  into Mar-a-Lago and the “Trumpettes” who are standing firm with the former president.

The Washingtonian has scouted out  11 amazing Airbnbs in the D.C. area.

And take it or leave it: A cast member from Bravo’s short-lived Real Housewives of DC is spilling the royal tea .

ONE MORE THING

Christmas season at the White House

White House Holiday Decorations
Commander and Willow are seen during a press preview of holiday decorations at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Monday, November 28, 2022.

This year’s White House holiday theme is “We the People” — complete with mirrored decor and sparkling lights. 

First lady Jill Biden gave a peek into the annual decorating tradition this week. 

“During your visit to the People’s House, through rooms full of history and holiday decor, in the mirrored ornaments and reflective lights, our hope is that you feel at home and find yourself in the great story of America,” she said in a statement. “As our country gathers for the holidays, traditions may vary, but our shared American values — a belief in possibility, optimism, and unity — endure season after season.” 

The Hill’s In The Know has all of the details  about what’s happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue this holiday season. 

Thanks for reading! Please consider sharing with a friend to sign up: thehill.com/noted .

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What you need to know about Georgia Senate runoff

The midterms aren’t over yet in Georgia as incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker jockey for the state’s Senate seat in an intense runoff race after neither candidate scored more than half the vote in the first go. 

Here’s what you need to know as the runoff election gets underway:

The runoff is Dec. 6

The runoff election will be held Dec. 6, about a month after the November midterms and after a week-and-a-half of early voting.

Early voting started in some counties over the weekend after the Georgia Supreme Court denied a Republican bid to block a Saturday start. 

Early voting started statewide on Monday, Nov. 28, and runs until the Friday before Election Day, Dec. 2.

Georgians looking to cast their ballots in the runoff race need to have already registered by the Nov. 7 deadline ahead of the midterms.

Early voter turnout is breaking records

Georgia has seen high voter turnout  throughout the midterms, and the runoff race is pulling in record numbers even weeks after November’s Election Day.

On Sunday, more Georgia voters cast their ballots than on any Sunday in the past three general elections, including this year, or in last year’s Senate runoff. 

On Monday, voter turnout broke the state’s all-time record for a single day of early voting — with more than 300,000 voters casting their ballots. 

The race could expand Democratic control of Senate

Democrats looked to Georgia throughout the midterms as an important pickup opportunity in their battle to keep control of the Senate. 

Unexpected wins in other states helped Democrats to 50 seats before Georgia’s race was called, but the seat is still key to determining the strength of the blue majority in the upper chamber. 

A Warnock win would put Democrats up 51-50, while a Walker win would rely on the tiebreaker vote by Vice President Kamala Harris — as in the current 50-50 Senate.

The candidates are neck-and-neck

In November’s general election, Warnock came in with 49.44 percent of the vote, just a hair ahead of Walker with 48.49 percent, according to data from the Georgia secretary of state. 

A new poll from Frederick Polls, COMPETE Digital and AMM Political released Tuesday puts the candidates deadlocked at 50 percent ahead of the runoff.

AARP released a poll last week that put Warnock ahead by 4 percentage points, though Walker was leading among voters older than 50.

The candidates have ramped up their campaigns and fundraising as the already tight midterm race stretches into December.

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