As President Joe Biden tosses executive orders like T-shirts at a Ducks game and new Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer continues to wrestle the gavel from Mitch McConnell, House Democrats are quietly but aggressively putting their house in order.
CD4’s Kathleen Rice crushed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a 46-13 vote to get onto the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, but the real story may be what Rice wants to do with her new platform. This week she was named to three of the committee's six subcommittees: communications and technology, consumer protection and commerce, and oversight and investigations.
On Friday, Rice met with committee chair Frank Pallone of New Jersey to discuss her priorities, and afterward she shared her agenda with The Point.
Online disinformation targeted at veterans. Rice notes that at least 20% of those identified as having taken part in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol were military, including Ashli Babbitt, an Air Force veteran deeply involved with the QAnon conspiracy who was killed in the assault. Friday afternoon, Rice was drafting a letter to social media companies asking for data on how accounts with military connections are served information.
Infrastructure plan. Rice believes Biden's massive infrastructure bill should include projects that would ensure safe drinking water for Long Islanders, from cleanups of carcinogens in Nassau County to sewering projects in Suffolk County. She thinks the legislation is going to be important for remediation of contaminated sites. "With a willing administration, there could be some help for us here," she said.
Green energy. To promote green energy, she wants to prod the Department of the Interior to designate more offshore wind sites off southern Long Island and get FEMA to consider future resilience rather than just rebuilding after a storm.
Probe of cyber attacks. While the Energy and Commerce Committee will investigate cyber attacks on U.S. national security networks, Rice also wants a focus on how to provide more security to medical and health care networks. That would include funding for local hospitals to expand tele-health networks.
Rice is optimistic that there can be bipartisan support for some of these issues and that the horror of the Capitol riot is having a sobering effect on some of the partisan rhetoric on The Hill. During Inauguration Day ceremonies, some Republican colleagues told her things had to change.
"More than a handful of my GOP friends said we've got to try to heal this country," she said. "That gave me hope they want to get stuff done."
—Rita Ciolli @ritaciolli
Planting the seeds for public campaign financing
Advocates for public campaign financing were treated to a satisfying line in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s budget bill submitted this week: $7,337,000 for the state’s new Public Campaign Finance Board.
That’s the entity set to administer New York’s new matching-funds program for public office contenders, meant to make it easier for new candidates to run and reduce the reliance on big donors.
"This makes me hopeful," said Larry Norden, director of the Election Reform Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. "This could get real now."
Budget legislation passed last year mandated that the new program would go into effect on Nov. 9, 2022, and apply to participants in the 2024 primary and general state elections. This proposed funding, if it goes through, would be the first time money was actually allocated to get the program up and running, amid a pandemic and budget gap no less. Still, it’s not a moment too soon: Other similar programs have taken approximately two years to get off the ground, Norden told The Point.
The money includes allotments for IT infrastructure and staffing — 15 people, according to Cuomo’s budget briefing book. And the $7.3 million shouldn’t be affected by whether the state gets funding from D.C. — the line was included in Cuomo’s budget bill, which prepares for the worse-case scenario.
The money is one among multiple wins New York election reform advocates — long accustomed to heartbreak — are now celebrating. In December, Cuomo signed into law the long-awaited New York Automatic Voter Registration Act of 2020, which will establish a system to smooth voter registration when eligible voters interact with the Department of Motor Vehicles and other state agencies.
—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano
Honey Un-do List
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New variants are here
New COVID-19 variants are emerging around the world, including one strain from the United Kingdom now detected on Long Island. On Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that variant "may be associated with a higher degree of mortality."
But as the variants have been investigated, local governmental guidance here has been unchanged and largely adheres to the standard federal safety rules.
"The guidance from the CDC is [to] follow the protocols," Nassau County Health Commissioner Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein said in a statement to The Point. That includes social distancing, wearing a mask, avoiding large gatherings, and getting a vaccine when available. "We’ll adjust to whatever comes," Eisenstein said.
Scientists are trying to learn more about what that future holds. There have been concerns about the effectiveness of current vaccines against a South African strain, and about some indications that reinfections might be more likely with a Brazilian strain that is threatening to collapse the hospital system in parts of that country.
These and the more prominent UK variant "seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19," says a Jan. 15 post from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A report from the agency last week said the UK strain could become the predominant variant by March.
Some New Yorkers are heeding the advice and being particularly careful. Robyn Gershon, a clinical professor of epidemiology at the New York University School of Global Public Health, told The Point that she has been wearing two masks when she goes outside. Some research suggests that can offer more protection.
"It just means we have to be more cautious because it's easy to spread," she said.
—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano