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Wednesday, Jan 26th

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Dems' filibuster conundrum: It's not just Manchin and Sinema

Kelly

A Democratic senator from Arizona is still not sold on changes to the filibuster. And it's not Kyrsten Sinema.

Mark Kelly is not yet committed to a change in the Senate rules that would allow elections reform legislation to pass by a simple majority. A centrist who is up for reelection in November, Kelly said Monday he is still undecided just days before he may have to vote on proposals to weaken the filibuster.

“I’ve never been part of an organization where it’s really, really hard to do things. So if there’s a real proposal, I’ll take a look at it and evaluate it based on what’s in the best interests of the country,” Kelly said. He said he has yet to see what, exactly, he would vote on and that the proposals Democrats have discussed change “almost weekly.”

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis bashes Biden while spending Washington bucks

DiSantisGov. Ron DeSantis’ $99.7 billion state budget proposal, heavily supported by federal COVID-19 recovery dollars, is getting its first reviews from Florida lawmakers in the newly opened 2022 session.

And for outnumbered Florida Democrats, frustrations are mounting.

DeSantis, who regularly spars with the Biden administration, is using $3.8 billion in federal aid money to cover some of his most eye-catching initiatives in the spending plan – even though every Republican member of the U.S. House and Senate voted against the relief spending.

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R.N.C. Signals a Pullout From Presidential Debates

RNC about to pull out of debates

The Republican National Committee is preparing to change its rules to require presidential candidates seeking the party’s nomination to sign a pledge to not participate in any debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

Republican committee officials alerted the debate commission to their plans in a letter sent on Thursday, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times. If the change goes forward, it would be one of the most substantial shifts in how presidential and vice-presidential debates have been conducted since the commission began organizing debates more than 30 years ago.

The nonprofit commission, founded by the two parties in 1987 to codify the debates as a permanent part of presidential elections, describes itself as nonpartisan. But Republicans have complained for nearly a decade that its processes favor the Democrats, mirroring increasing rancor from conservatives toward Washington-based institutions.

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McCarthy says he won't cooperate with January 6 committee

McCarthy says he won't cooperateThe House select committee investigating theJanuary 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol is asking House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to voluntarily provide information. But McCarthy said in a statement Wednesday night that he has "concluded to not participate with this select committee."

January 6 select committee chair Bennie Thompson and the committee are looking for information from the top Republican about the days leading up to January 6, as well as that day and days following. Thompson wants information about reports that McCarthy said that former President Trump acknowledged some culpability for the violence, and McCarthy's support of continued objections to electoral votes from multiple states.

Thompson's letter to McCarthy cites an interview McCarthy gave to "CBS Evening News" anchor and managing editor Norah O'Donnell in the midst of the riot on January 6. O'Donnell asked if he had spoken with Trump, and McCarthy replied, "I've spoken to the president. I asked him to talk to the nation to tell them to stop this. This is not who we are."

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Matt Gaetz's ex-girlfriend testifies to grand jury in sex trafficking probe

Matt GaetzRep. Matt Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend testified Wednesday before a federal grand jury investigating him for sex crimes, a major development that suggests the Department of Justice may be moving closer to indicting him.

The ex-girlfriend, whose name is being withheld by NBC News to respect her privacy, has been in talks for months with prosecutors about an immunity deal. Under a possible deal, she would avoid prosecution for obstruction of justice in return for testifying in the investigation into whether Gaetz in 2017 had sex with a 17-year-old female for money and whether months later he and others violated a federal law prohibiting people from transporting others across state lines to engage in prostitution.

Legal sources familiar with the case say Gaetz is being investigated for three distinct crimes: sex trafficking the 17-year-old; violating the Mann Act, which prohibits taking women across state lines for prostitution; and obstructing justice.

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House votes to expand GI benefits for National Guard, Reserve troops

National GuardThe House passed legislation on Wednesday that would expand eligibility for GI Bill education benefits for National Guard and Reserve troops.

Lawmakers passed the bill on a bipartisan basis, 287-135, with 68 Republicans joining with all Democrats in support.

National Guard and military reservists currently don't accrue the same benefits as their active-duty counterparts under the GI Bill, which helps qualifying veterans and their family members pay for higher education.

The legislation approved by the House would eliminate that disparity by allowing all federal missions, as well as training days in uniform, to count toward GI benefits for National Guard and Reserve troops.

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McEnany sits down with Jan. 6 investigators

McEnany sits down with CommitteeFormer White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany sat down Wednesday with investigators from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, a source familiar confirmed to The Hill.

McEnany, who was subpoenaed in November, appeared before the committee virtually. CBS News was the first to report her meeting with the panel.

McEnany was subpoenaed alongside former Trump aide Stephen Miller and other White House employees, with her summons largely focused on false statements she made promoting baseless claims of voter fraud.

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U.S. COVID deaths rising but likely due to Delta, not Omicron, says CDC chief

US deaths rising, but due to Delta not OmicronCOVID-19 hospitalizations in the United States have increased by about 33% and deaths are up by about 40% from a week earlier, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Wednesday.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, speaking on a media call, said U.S. COVID-19 cases, driven by the fast spreading Omicron variant, are expected to peak in the coming weeks.

"The magnitude of this increase is largely related to the Omicron variant, which now represents about 90% of the COVID-19 cases in the country," she told reporters.

Hospitalizations have been on the rise since late December as Omicron surpassed the Delta variant as the dominant version of the coronavirus in the United States, although experts say Omicron will likely prove less deadly than prior iterations.

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Reuters: Biden weighing cuts to 2022 ethanol blending mandate proposal

Ethanol blending to be cut: ReutersThe Biden administration is considering lowering the 2022 ethanol blending mandate below the proposed 15 billion gallons amid backlash from the oil refining lobby and unions arguing the shrinking U.S. ethanol industry can no longer support the target, according to two sources familiar with the administration’s thinking.

U.S. President Joe Biden vowed to bring some normalcy back to laws requiring refiners to blend biofuels like corn-based ethanol into the nation’s gasoline pool after his predecessor, Donald Trump, took unprecedented steps to relieve refiners from the requirement.

But Biden is finding it difficult to live up to his promise. The COVID-19 pandemic has dampened fuel consumption and triggered a handful of ethanol plant shutdowns. Higher regulatory costs have refiners threatening to close refineries and shed high-paying union jobs.

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