Why homelessness looks different in Washington, D.C., than L.A.

WASHINGTON —  Mayors Karen Bass of Los Angeles and Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C. — Democrats leading two of the nation’s most prominent and progressive cities — epitomize the plight big-city mayors around the country face as they tackle a growing number of homeless encampments, and the complaints that come with them.

While both cities have removed some of the most visible tents, Washington looks and feels less saturated with homeless people than Los Angeles, especially in the tourist areas around the White House, Capitol Hill and the national monuments.

The first reason is sheer numbers. Washington has about 61% as many unhoused people as the city of Los Angeles on a per capita basis, and only about 14% as many living on the street, according to local estimates.

The second factor is the federal government, which oversees most city parks here, as well as larger attractions such as the National Mall. The National Park Service and other federal agencies have traditionally been more aggressive in enforcing no-camping policies, sometimes after prodding from local officials, according to homeless people and advocates.

Finally, neither Bowser nor the federal government faces the same legal constraints as Los Angeles and other Western cities, which are subject to some unique 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rulings that have left some doubt as to whether camps can be removed if the city lacks shelter space for its entire homeless population.

Though Bass’ signature program, Inside Safe, has moved nearly 2,000 people from public spaces into housing since she took office, it remains voluntary, meaning some homeless people can choose to stay in their tents.

Bass has said encampments are a defining issue, the reason she ran for the job.

“I was worried that L.A. was at a crossroads where people were getting ready to take a very punitive approach, because we’ve taxed ourselves three times and the problem just keeps getting worse,” she said in October at Bloomberg CityLab, a Washington conference for mayors and other government leaders.

The issue is not as dominant in Washington, but has sparked similar political flashpoints. In February, after the Park Service and district officials cleared a large encampment in McPherson Square, a federal park near the White House, Bowser called it a matter of safety for those living in the tents.

“What we’re doing is insisting people get connected to the services that we know work,” she said.

City officials, advocates and homeless people here all say D.C. has been more aggressive in closing encampments since the end of the pandemic.

“We are seeing an uptick in D.C. and across the country,” said Eric Tars, senior policy director with the National Homelessness Law Center.

“We can all agree that nobody wants to see encampments on our corners, on our parks, on the National Mall,” he added. But instead of building housing, which is more cost-effective than sending people to jail, he said leaders find it politically easier to use “law enforcement to punish people for things that are outside of their control and making things worse.”

City officials say the increase in removals was guided by the pandemic. When the city shut down, homeless people began erecting tents in newly empty places, said Wayne Turnage, deputy mayor for the District of Columbia Health and Human Services. When the pandemic ended, officials stepped up efforts to find those people housing, he said.

Many encampments “were unhealthy or unsafe,” he said. “That was a heavy lift.”

Turnage said the district prioritizes closing encampments that pose a safety risk and will leave some encampments intact after they are cleaned up by city workers.

In an email, Cynthia Hernandez, a National Park Service spokesperson, said the park service “is dedicated to ensuring the safety and enjoyment of all visitors to NPS parks as well as the preservation of natural and cultural resources while also respecting the rights and dignity of individuals experiencing homelessness.”

Many homeless people in Washington describe needing to move often or steer clear of areas that are likely to be targeted.

Kevin Madden, 61, said he has had to move his tent twice in recent months after Park Police kicked him out. They once left a note on his tent in Georgetown giving him a couple days’ notice to evacuate, he said.

“The police said I had to leave the property,” he said, adding they offered “no kind of resources.”

Derian Mize, 30, said Park Police and D.C. police threw away his and three other people’s belongings last year after posting a warning in a park where they were staying in the city’s more affluent northwest residential neighborhood.

The park had a water pump and an electrical outlet, which made it an attractive place to stay. But the arrangement lasted only six weeks. He heard residents discussing his tent and saw people whom he believed were with the city photograph it.

“They’re not having that” in wealthy neighborhoods, he said.

He now lives in one of six tents behind some trees beside a parkway, between the tourists of Georgetown and the government officials and lobbyists who work around the White House.

One of his neighbors in the encampment, Leroy Fenner, 38, said he prefers the site because it is calmer than other encampments. McPherson Square, the massive encampment that was cleared by officials, had a reputation among homeless people as dangerous, he said.

“I don’t want to be a part of the drugs, the violence, all of that,” he said. “Some of us is just hard on our luck and just want to get our lives back in order. Yeah, so we don’t want to be in places like McPherson Square, because it will trap you there”.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Senators Whiff on Challenging Julie Su

Su Blames Feds for EDD Fraud…Again

On February 28th – the day President Biden nominated Julie Su to become the next Secretary of Labor – the state of California owed $18,868,506,716.36 to the federal government to repay the money it borrowed to cover unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

Today – the day of Su’s confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee – California owes $19,258,996,070.59.

That is an increase – in principal and interest – of about $390 million…or $7,467,000 million in new debt every day, which translates into about $318,620 dollars an hour.

That means that California racked up about $637,000 in additional debt during the two hours it took today for Su’s hearing and another $1.9 million will be added before the committee votes next Wednesday.

Despite it being mathematically impossible, during the hearing Su – who oversaw the state’s unemployment program during the pandemic –  continued to blame the Trump administration for the $40 billion loss, a loss twice the size of the debt, a loss that could have been largely prevented.

The hearing itself was surprisingly low-key, with Democrats praising Su’s experience, her “story” as the child of immigrants, and her focus on expanding apprenticeship programs and worker training.  They also pointed out that every state had an unemployment fraud issue and at least two senators claimed California – under Su’s stewardship – had one of the lowest fraud rates in the nation.

That claim is false and Su did not move to correct the statement.

Su claimed today that “95%” of the fraud involved the pandemic-related “PUA” emergency program.  As California spent about $25 billion in PUA and lost overall about $40 billion to fraud that would mean the PUA experienced a fraud rate of about 160% – that, obviously, did not happen.

It was also claimed by committee chair Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) that under Su California was the first state to install safeguards against fraud.  Su herself said “once we saw what was happening, I shut the front door” on fraud.

Both claims are false.

A state auditor’s report noted ““despite repeated warnings, [Su’s] EDD did not bolster its fraud detection efforts until months into the pandemic.”

It was also noted that California had 20% of all unemployment claims in the nation, making Su’s job more difficult.  What Republicans– amazingly – did not point out is that the number is closer to 22% and, more importantly, California has about 12% of the nation’s population.  If California had not been such an easy mark and quickly became known to international fraud gangs as such, the population and number of claims made should have been about the same.

While Su shifted blame to the federal government for not providing proper “guidelines,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) said Su waived basic security guidelines that could have been in place anyway.  He said “the buck stops at the top” and that he could not support her nomination.

Su repeatedly said “95%” of the fraud was PUA-related, failing to note (and Republicans failed to note, either) that it was the EDD itself that sent out the money.  In other words, ALL funds – state and federal – flowed through the EDD system; the feds cut the checks and the individual states spent – and entirely controlled – the distribution of funds, which means it does not matter where it came from as they were indistinguishable from one another.

The committee touched on a number of other subjects including Su’s implementation of California’s anti-freelance/gig worker AB-5.  Su said she was just doing what the law called for, though when reminded she said those types of jobs are “not the economy we want in California,” she did seem to blanch a bit.  Su said she does not plan to bring AB-5-type regulations to the Department of Labor as that would be Congress’ job to pass such a law, though many organizations remain fearful of a regulatory back-door implementation.

Su also twice used the term “bona fide” to describe “independent contractors,” noting they “have a place in the economy.”

She was not challenged on what she deems a “bona fide” contractor, but the term’s qualificative inclusion in her statement should raise alarm bells for independent workers.

“We are concerned that Ms. Su would continue to pursue an ideologically-motivated agenda towards worker classification that ignores the thousands of small-business truckers that depend on the ability to work as an independent contractor” said Todd Spencer, President & CEO of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association after the hearing. “Make no mistake, if Ms. Su were to advance the same policies that she championed in California, it would force hundreds of thousands of truckers to change their business model and put their livelihood in jeopardy … if Ms. Su is confirmed to lead the Department, we fear that we will see a repeat of what’s happened in California.”

Other Republican senators questioned her ability to be a neutral arbiter in critical labor disputes, citing Su’s history of union advocacy and her extremely limited face-to-face negotiating experience.

Throughout the hearing, Su repeatedly “thanked” and “appreciated” whenever she was asked a question – an off-putting, likely false, attempt to appear supplicative.  And it wouldn’t be a California-related government meeting if Newson-esque jargon was not bandied about: New Hampshire’s Sen. Maggie Hassan used the term “those experiencing a disability” to describe disabled workers and Su herself talked of “crowding in” program funding, working “in this space,” and, of course, working to “meet the moment.”

Stand Against Su, a coalition of small businesses, freelancers, tipped workers, and franchisees responded to Su’s confirmation hearing:

“Su stumbled several times during the hearing, at one point unable to explain her position on joint employer policy. Also notable was her exchange with Senator Markwayne Mullin, during which Su admitted that she has never run a business, balanced a budget, or employed individuals, and therefore has zero firsthand understanding of how policies like AB 5 and the FAST Act can impact business owners and employees.”

Click here to read the full article at California Globe

Noncitizen Bill Makes Aliens and Diplomats D.C. Voters

Congress can stop a law that gives the franchise to any adult 30-day district resident.

Hard as it is to believe, the mayor of Washington, D.C., might soon be elected with votes from illegal immigrants or the staff at the Chinese embassy. Last month the D.C. City Council passed a bill to expand the franchise in local elections to any adult with 30 days of residency. Mayor Muriel Bowser did not sign or veto it, so the bill was officially enacted Monday without her signature.

A few jurisdictions have moved to let noncitizens vote in local races, but the D.C. plan stands out, given how it follows progressive ideas to a bizarre conclusion. New York City passed a noncitizen voting law that a court ruled this year was a violation of the state Constitution. But that proposal at least required noncitizen voters to have U.S. work authorization. No such limitation appears in the D.C. bill, meaning illegal aliens and foreign college students would be able to vote, and that’s not all.

“There’s nothing in this measure to prevent employees at embassies of governments that are openly hostile to the United States from casting ballots,” the Washington Post reported. A writer at the lefty New Republic agreed with that assessment: “A Russian diplomat could live their entire life in Moscow or St. Petersburg, take a job as a cultural attaché at Russia’s D.C. Embassy in August 2024, move into their new apartment that September, and cast a ballot in D.C.’s local elections that November.”

It reads like a bad parody of progressive decadence. Try to imagine American diplomatic personnel showing up to cast ballots for the mayor of Beijing or Moscow. Beyond that, the standard objections to noncitizen voting apply. It weakens the incentive to naturalize. Only U.S. citizens can vote in federal races, so including noncitizens in local races would force election officials to manage two voter lists and two sets of ballots. It’s begging for a fiasco.

These arguments didn’t persuade the D.C. City Council, which passed the bill 12-1 on first reading. Because the district is a federal enclave, acts of the council are subject to review by Congress, and the bill now goes to Capitol Hill. Lawmakers have 30 legislative days to object via a joint resolution.

Republican Sens. Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz have said they will seek to block the noncitizen voting proposal. Will Democrats stand in the way of that attempt? Let’s see the roll call.

Perhaps this is also a moment to think bigger. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has suggested “a constitutional amendment, a U.S. constitutional amendment, that only American citizens vote in our elections.” A 2024 presidential candidate who takes up that call might find a receptive public.

As for D.C., if the passage of this bill with little dissent reflects the rest of its governance, maybe Congress is overdue to consider some deeper reforms in how America’s capital city is run.

Click here to read the full article in the Wall Street Journal

What Divided Government Means for Washington

Republicans’ narrow control of the House of Representatives will usher in a return to divided government in Washington next year, likely shattering the chances of any major legislation, stoking divisions within the GOP and putting President Biden on defense as the new Congress investigates his administration.

Mr. Biden, who downsized his agenda to get bills through a Congress narrowly controlled by Democrats, will now have to contend with House Republicans who have said they plan to pressure him to cut government spending and make other policy changes by threatening to withhold votes to keep the government open or to ensure that the U.S. meets its debt obligations.

The extent of their leverage will likely be limited by Republicans’ performance in the midterms, which fell far short of the blowout many in the party had predicted. The GOP has won enough seats to capture the House majority, the Associated Press said. But supporters of former President Donald Trump and congressional leaders were already blaming each other for the smaller-than-expected margin, a possible sign of divisions to come.

Legislating will likely grind to a near halt, including some bills that once saw bipartisan support but have recently drawn skepticism from Republicans, such as assistance for Ukraine in defending itself against Russia. Republicans will get to push a competing agenda if they can hold their caucus together on key priorities—a daunting task with such a small majority.

“Everybody’s relevant, nobody’s irrelevant,” said Rep. Thomas Massie (R., Ky.). When asked what the razor-thin majority would look like, he said: “Go ask Joe Manchin,” referring to the centrist Democrat who is a key swing vote in the Senate.

Republican leaders say their plans include boosting border security, restricting abortion, encouraging more pay for police and reversing Democrats’ plans to expand the Internal Revenue Service. They will also use their oversight authority to investigate the Biden administration and the president’s family.

“A new Republican House is going to view its mandate as to stop the Biden administration, and I don’t see a whole lot of opportunities for them to necessarily work together,” said Brendan Buck, who worked for Paul Ryan and John Boehner when they were GOP House speakers.

Democrats won a crucial victory in Nevada to retain their hold on the Senate, regardless of the outcome of a coming runoff in the Georgia Senate race. The Democrats’ slim majority in the Senate means a priority for the party in the next two years will be confirming Mr. Biden’s nominees for judges and positions in the executive branch.

Meanwhile, the 2024 presidential campaign is kicking off, with Mr. Trump on Tuesday announcing another run for president.

Several of Mr. Trump’s endorsed candidates lost key races, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is seen as a potential challenger to Mr. Trump for the GOP presidential nomination, won easily. The shadow primary could deepen divisions within the House GOP’s narrow majority between Mr. Trump’s loyalists and those ready to move on.

Mr. Biden said after the midterms that it remains his intention to run again but said he wasn’t in a hurry, adding that he expected to make a decision by early next year. Democrats’ performance in the midterms could help Mr. Biden fend off any potential primary challengers as he makes his final decision.

Still, more voters disapproved than approved of the job being done by the president, and more than half of the electorate thinks Mr. Biden, 79 years old, lacks “the mental capacity to effectively serve as president,” according to preliminary results from a poll of more than 94,000 registered voters for The Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press and Fox News.

The midterm results add Mr. Biden to the list of U.S. presidents who lost House majorities roughly two years after they took office, but unlike his immediate predecessors, Mr. Biden staved off heavy losses.

Former President Barack Obama—who in 2010 lost more than 60 seats and control of the House and saw Democrats’ Senate majority narrowed by six seats—called the outcome a shellacking. Mr. Trump responded to his party’s setback in 2018—when Republicans lost more than 40 seats in the House and the majority—with a defiant, nearly 90-minute press conference. Congressional probes followed both elections; Mr. Trump was impeached twice and acquitted twice in the Senate.

After wrangling members of their own parties to pass some priorities in the first two years of their presidencies, Messrs. Obama and Trump turned to executive authority after the midterms, as Mr. Biden is expected to do. Mr. Biden and Democrats would likely block most Republican proposals. Overriding a veto requires a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate.

Republicans say they could use must-pass bills to push for spending cuts and other priorities, threatening government shutdowns, but it could be difficult to unite the conference around a strategy. The government was shut down in 2013 under Mr. Obama, when some Republicans pushed to repeal Obamacare as part of a spending package. A spending fight between Congress and the Trump administration after the 2018 midterms turned into the longest shutdown in U.S. history.

Generally in shutdowns, government employees miss paychecks, but essential government functions remain open. They haven’t significantly affected economic output, but a prolonged stalemate can affect the stock market. They can have a negative effect politically as polls in recent years have shown voters disapprove of shutdowns.

“When you’ve got divided government, you have the tools that you have at your disposal, and walking away from those tools is dereliction of duty,” said Rep. Chip Roy (R., Texas). “You’re not going to pass grand bipartisan bills to save America.”

Mr. Biden said at a press conference recently that voters don’t want constant political fighting and that he plans to invite leaders of both parties to the White House in the coming weeks.

“I’m prepared to work with my Republican colleagues,” he said. “The American people made clear, I think, that they expect Republicans to be prepared to work with me as well.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.)—who is favored to become speaker in the new Congress, though he faces an uphill climb in securing the needed votes—has pointed to legislation to raise the federal debt ceiling as an opportunity to push for spending cuts. In 2011, a standoff with the GOP-controlled House over the debt ceiling sent stocks plunging, leading to Standard & Poor’s decision to downgrade the U.S. credit rating for the first time.

Mr. McCarthy has said the House GOP wouldn’t write a blank check for aid to Ukraine, and he has said House Republicans will try to undo legislation that gave the IRS $80 billion to hire tens of thousands of workers, audit more high-income Americans, improve taxpayer service and implement better technology.

Many GOP lawmakers have signed on to a proposed federal abortion ban at 15 weeks of pregnancy, which Democrats campaigned against ahead of the midterms. Early results show the issue helped Democrats win in many races. A survey compiled by the Associated Press found that 10% of those who voted called it the most important issue.

“On the debt limit, on funding the government, on Ukraine, on a whole host of issues, every piece of legislation is going to be about trying to get it across the finish line with someone having a problem that they need to contend with,” said Ron Bonjean, a former senior House GOP aide. “It’s going to be legislative quicksand for the next couple of years.”

Although there is little appetite for major bipartisan bills, there could be support from both parties for narrow bills dealing with regulations on cryptocurrency, tech companies and China, some lawmakers and aides said.

Separate from the legislative jockeying, House Republicans are preparing broad investigations of the Biden administration, including scrutiny of the president’s handling of the southern border. The U.S. Border Patrol arrested a record 2.2 million people caught crossing the southern border illegally in the past year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Lawmakers have also said they would look into the U.S.’s chaotic troop withdrawal from Afghanistan; the origins of the Covid-19 virus and pandemic policies; and the foreign business dealings of Mr. Biden’s son Hunter Biden. Both Bidens have denied wrongdoing. The younger Mr. Biden has said the Justice Department is investigating whether he paid his taxes.

They could also look into the Justice Department’s operations under Attorney General Merrick Garland, who infuriated many GOP lawmakers when he authorized the application for a warrant to seize records with classified material that Mr. Trump took to his home in Florida. The search was part of an investigation into possible mishandling of classified information as well as violations of laws governing retention of presidential records. Mr. Trump has called the probe an effort by Democrats to undermine him.

The White House bolstered its legal team over the summer, hiring Washington defense lawyer Richard Sauber and Ian Sams, who was a spokesman for Vice President Kamala Harris’s presidential campaign. That group is expected to grow ahead of the new Congress, according to people familiar with the planning.

Top Republicans have played down the possibility of impeaching Mr. Biden, but rank-and-file members, who would likely have more power in a narrow House majority, have called for such a move. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R., Ga.) has introduced articles of impeachment against Mr. Biden.

During the Obama administration, Republicans dug into the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, and a government loan guarantee to the failed solar company Solyndra.

Click here to read the full article in the Wall Street Journal

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