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Facing tough ’22 elections, Dems want a year of achievements
Author: ALAN FRAM, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Staring at midterm elections that could cost them control of Congress, Democrats are trying to sculpt a 2022 legislative agenda that would generate achievements and reassure voters that they’re addressing pocketbook problems and can govern competently.

Last year, President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats notched two massive accomplishments: a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill and a $1 trillion infrastructure package. Yet also imprinted on voters’ minds are the months of Democratic infighting over priorities that saw holdouts embarrass Biden and party leaders by scuttling two top goals: their roughly $2 trillion, 10-year social and environment measure and voting rights legislation.

That’s led Democrats to seek wins they can claim this election year in a Congress they steer with almost no votes to spare, often against solid Republican opposition. They’re also debating the value of crafting popular bills and essentially daring GOP lawmakers to defeat them, producing fodder for campaign ads but also reminding constituents of Democrats’ 2021 failures.

”People want to see government work and expect us to help move things forward,” said Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., chair of the New Democrat Coalition, a House centrist group. She said voters will assess Democrats’ agenda for “the impact it has on their communities, on their families. That’s going to be what people think about when they vote in November.”

An early focus will be a $1.5 trillion bill financing government through September and perhaps providing further aid to cope with omicron, the highly contagious COVID-19 variant. Agency budgets run out Feb. 18 and bipartisan cooperation will be needed for a deal.

Other priorities listed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., include benefits for veterans who served near toxic burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan that could cost hundreds of billions of dollars, a measure addressing the computer chip shortage and other competitiveness issues, and a bill combating Russia’s threatened invasion of Ukraine with sanctions and other steps.

But topping the 2022 goals for Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is resurrection of the party’s social and environment bill. It had popular programs to restrain prescription drug prices, send monthly checks to families with children and curb global warming.

After months of talks pitting progressives against moderates, Democrats squeezed a compromise through the House in November over GOP opposition. But in the 50-50 Senate, where Democrats can afford no defectors, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., shot it down in December, arguing it was too costly.

Party leaders expect to renew talks soon and hope to have a deal, or be near one, by Biden’s March 1 State of the Union address. Biden has conceded the measure will have to be trimmed but predicted “big chunks” will be enacted, including money for free pre-Kindergarten and over $500 billion for climate change efforts.

Yet underscoring how long and difficult such bargaining may be, positioning has already resumed.

Manchin said rather than resuming where negotiations left off, “We just start with a clean sheet of paper and start over.” No. 3 House Democratic leader James Clyburn of South Carolina wants the package to keep its aid for affordable housing. And three Northeastern Democrats want retention of federal tax breaks for people from places, like theirs, with high state and local levies.

“We have to put everything to the metal for the next six weeks” to rewrite and pass that bill, said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus. She said Biden should issue executive orders easing pharmaceutical prices and student debt and House Democrats should send popular bills to the Senate and let Republicans defeat them, “so people understand that Democrats are fighting on these particular issues.”

Crafting an agenda that produces legislative success, not just setups for failure to expose Republican intransigence, could be crucial for Democrats in a year with political headwinds blowing against them. In a poll released Thursday by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, Biden hit a low for his year-old presidency with more people disapproving than approving of his job performance, 56% to 43%.

“Democracy seems under attack on every front; the Democratic trifecta can’t get things across the finish line,” Adam Green, cofounder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said of Democratic control of the White House, Senate and House. He said that’s put many on the left “in a funk.”

And while the economy, job creation and the stock market have been strong and COVID-19 vaccines widely available, concerns are widespread over inflation, the persistent pandemic and Russia’s threat to Ukraine. All this in a year of midterm elections, when lower turnout puts a premium on voting by each party’s most ideological loyalists.

“They’re seeing things Biden put political capital behind fail,” Sean McElwee, cofounder of the liberal research group Data for Progress, said of Democratic voters. “They need to see things Biden puts political capital behind succeed.”

History bodes ill for Democrats. The party holding the White House has lost House seats in 17 of the 19 midterm elections since World War II, averaging 28 losses per election. Republicans would grab House control in November by gaining five seats.

This puts a premium on honing a forward-looking legislative agenda. “I’m not going to spend all my time talking about what didn’t happen because we’ve got three more years” of Biden’s presidency, said Clyburn. “His term does not end tomorrow.”

In one microcosm of Democrats’ differences, Manchin has shown little enthusiasm for extending the enhanced child tax credit and its monthly checks for recipients, dampening its prospects and prompting Biden to express doubts about its survival. But the credit is a top priority for many, and Schumer and others have promised to try retaining it.

“This tax cut for families is just something we should go right back to,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who is running for Senate and says Democrats communicated their working-class priorities poorly last year. “If we do these things, boom, boom, boom, boom, we can start reclaiming the narrative.”

House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., said Democrats would benefit politically by rescuing the child tax credit because it’s one of the few components of the social and economic bill voters would feel before November. The IRS could quickly resume the now-expired monthly checks.

Others say it’s time to recalibrate.

“When there’s no path forward, then you work on other things that will have very strong impact,” said Democratic Rep. Susan Wild, who represents a competitive Pennsylvania district. She said Democrats should compromise with Manchin and put omitted initiatives into separate bills, such as capping insulin costs at $35 monthly.

“If we can’t get that pushed through on a bipartisan basis, then something is truly wrong with our colleagues across the aisle,” Wild said.

WDFW approves 6 days of clam digs beginning Jan. 29
Author: Columbian news services

OLYMPIA — Razor clam enthusiasts can head to coastal beaches as shellfish managers with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) confirmed Friday the next round of digging can proceed as planned from Jan. 29 through Feb. 3.

“We have had some really good digging opportunity to start the new year and are excited to be able to finish out January on some really good minus tides,” said Zach Forster, a WDFW coastal shellfish biologist.

Shellfish managers confirmed the following digs during evening low tides will proceed as scheduled, after marine toxin results from the Washington Department of Health showed razor clams were safe to eat:

Jan. 29, Saturday, 4:30 p.m.; -0.7 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

Jan. 30, Sunday, 5:21 p.m.; -1.2 feet; Long Beach, Copalis

Jan. 31, Monday, 6:08 p.m.; -1.5 feet; Long Beach

Feb. 1, Tuesday, 6:52 p.m.; -1.5 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis

Feb. 2, Wednesday, 7:34 p.m.; -1.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

Feb. 3, Thursday, 8:13 p.m.; -0.7 feet; Copalis

Not all beaches are open for every dig, so diggers are encouraged to make sure their intended destination is open before heading out.

The daily limit is 15 razor clams. Under state law, a daily limit consists of the first 15 clams dug regardless of size or condition, and each digger’s clams must be kept in a separate container.

The most successful digging occurs between one and two hours before the listed time of low tide. The early part of the outgoing tides on Jan. 29-30 will occur just before sunset, a rare occurrence during the winter season.

No digging is allowed before noon during digs when low tide occurs in the afternoon or evening.

Details on these and future digs can be found at wdfw.wa.gov/razorclams.

All diggers age 15 or older must have an applicable fishing license to harvest razor clams on any beach. Licenses, ranging from a three-day razor clam license to an annual combination fishing license or a Fish Washington license, are available from WDFW’s licensing website at fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/login, and from hundreds of license vendors around the state.

To learn more about razor clam abundance, population densities at various beaches, and how seasons are set, visit https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfishing-regulations/razor-clams#management.

As Biden struggles, Harris touts California wildfire aid
Author: MICHAEL R. BLOOD, AP Political Writer

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) — After a difficult first year in office, Vice President Kamala Harris enjoyed a homecoming of sorts Friday, taking a helicopter tour in Southern California mountains to highlight new funding for federal wildfire programs.

She was joined by Gov. Gavin Newsom and California Sen. Alex Padilla — both Harris’ friends and fellow Democrats — on a day when they inspected wildfire damage from the sky, visited a federal fire station where they heard about the increasing risk of destructive blazes and outlined new spending aimed at reducing the risk of wildfires and dealing with their aftermath.

She also announced $600 million in disaster relief funding for the U.S. Forest Service in California.

In brief remarks, the vice president hailed the work of firefighters and credited collaboration between governments “unencumbered by politics,” an apparent reference to past friction between heavily Democratic California and the Trump administration.

She said the government is “putting the resources where they are needed” in the battle against fires and climate change.

Harris’ first year in office was framed by the pandemic, a fruitless battle over voting rights legislation and an immigration crisis at the border. The trip to her home state gave Harris a chance to revel in hearty applause. She and the Biden administration were praised repeatedly for their direction on wildfires and the climate.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called her leadership “unmatched.”

Harris’ visit comes at a time when President Joe Biden’s approval rating is sliding, Democrats are at risk of losing control of the House and Senate in the 2022 midterm elections and Harris continues to struggle to define her role in the administration.

Her office highlighted recent legislation that provided $1 billion to create plans to help defend communities from wildfires. There also is $650 million for rehabilitation efforts for burned areas, and nearly $2.4 billion for hazardous fuels management.

Earlier this week, the Biden administration said it will expand efforts to fight wildfires by thinning forests around “hot spots” where nature and neighborhoods collide.

As climate change dries out the U.S. West, administration officials said they have crafted a $50 billion plan to more than double the use of controlled fires and logging to reduce trees and other vegetation that serves as tinder in the most at-risk areas. Only some of the work has funding so far.

NYPD: 1 officer killed, 1 wounded in Harlem shooting
Author: MICHAEL R. SISAK, Associated Press

NEW YORK — A New York Police Department officer was killed and another gravely injured Friday night after responding to a domestic disturbance call, according to a law enforcement official.

A suspect was also wounded in the shooting in Harlem, said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and did so on condition of anonymity.

Mayor Eric Adams was at the hospital where the officers were taken after the shooting, the third time in four days that officers have faced gunfire on the job.

An officer was wounded in the leg Tuesday night in the Bronx during a struggle with a teenager who also shot himself. On Thursday, a narcotics detective was shot in the leg on Staten Island.

The last NYPD officer fatally shot in the line of duty, Brian Mulkeen, was hit by friendly fire while struggling with an armed man after chasing and shooting at him in the Bronx in September 2019.

Man arrested in Portland hit-and-run
Author: Associated Press

PORTLAND (AP) — A 22-year-old man is facing manslaughter and other charges after police say he ran from a vehicle collision that killed one person and injured another in Portland.

At around 11:30 p.m. Thursday officers responded to a report of a crash in southeast Portland, the Portland Police Bureau said.

Police said the passenger in a Toyota Camry died at the scene and the driver was taken to a hospital with serious injuries.

Another vehicle involved in the incident was empty and witnesses said people had run from the car.

Police later said they found three people believed to have been in the vehicle including driver Ayzaiah Walker, who was arrested.

Walker was booked into the Multnomah County Detention Center on charges of manslaughter, assault, driving under the influence of intoxicants, and reckless driving. No other arrests were made and investigators are not currently seeking any other suspects.

It wasn’t immediately known if Walker has a lawyer to comment on the case.

EU nations urge stronger borders to ease migration pressures
Author: DAVID KEYTON and MONIKA SCISLOWSKA, Associated Press

VILNIUS, Lithuania — Ministers from European Union nations under pressure from unauthorized border crossings asked Friday for more action to protect the bloc’s external borders as well as for rules to return migrants to their homelands or where they started their journeys.

Interior ministers from EU countries including Greece, Poland, Italy, Austria and France — which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency — as well as nonaligned Switzerland and Norway attended a border security conference in Lithuania’s capital of Vilnius. European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson and the heads of European security bodies like Europol and Frontex, the EU’s border agency, also joined the talks.

The ministers described the influx of thousands of migrants as dramatic and urged swift actions, including reinforcing the EU’s borders and cracking down on people smugglers to protect both EU citizens and the lives of migrants and refugees from the Middle East, Africa and Asia who undertake hazardous journeys to reach Europe.

“We must protect our borders from aggression, and we need to protect our people,” Johansson told more than 30 officials at the Conference on Border Management.

Doing that, she said, requires stopping people who are fleeing poverty and conflicts in their home countries from starting out on dangerous migration routes. But she also stressed the need for a new European system for returning migrants to their homelands if they have no permission to stay in the EU.

“We have to prevent people from departing on smuggling routes and to swiftly return people to the country of origin when they have no right to stay. We can do much more on returns if we establish a European return system. But I need your support to do that,” Johansson told the participants.

She said she will discuss the plan in more detail at a meeting in France next month.

“We can’t wait until we have desperate migrants at our borders. We need to act sooner,” Johansson said, stressing that preventative actions must respect the rights of individuals to seek asylum.

In a joint statement, 16 EU nations urged amendments to the Schengen Borders Code to blacklist transport operators involved in human smuggling and trafficking of people into the EU. They called for reducing “incentives for illegal migration ” and for preventing the abuse of the asylum system. They said the EU should also contribute “adequate” financial support for the protective measures.

Notis Mitarachi, Greece’s minister of migration and asylum, which faces heavy migrant pressures on its sea borders and on its land border with Turkey, said the current system is not working.

“If people have the right to arrive in any European member state without any papers and without due process, then the whole Schengen code, the whole Schengen visa system, is meaningless,” Mitarachi said.

Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski called for amendments to EU migration laws, especially for banning migrants who resort to violence to cross EU borders from receiving permission to stay.

Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have seen a wave of migrants trying to cross illegally into the EU from Belarus, encouraged by that nation’s authoritarian president.

Poland is about to start building a tall, permanent metal wall with electronic surveillance systems along its land border with Belarus to prevent unauthorized entries. Lithuania is also building 500 kilometers (310 miles) of a wall on its border with Belarus.

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