- The Washington Times - Friday, January 20, 2023

Welcome to On Background, the politics newsletter that brings you insights from Capitol Hill to the campaign trail from veteran journalists at The Washington Times.

Click here to sign up and continue to receive On Background from Susan Ferrechio and Tom Howell Jr. every Friday morning.

The post-election spring in President Biden‘s step is deflating fast from the drip, drip, drip of classified documents showing up in odd places, including five additional pages discovered at the president’s home in Wilmington, Delaware. Those docs will be added to the pile of classified papers, including those marked top secret, found just days before the November elections at a Washington office building that Mr. Biden used when he was an honorary professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Escalating furor. White House correspondents Jeff Mordock and Joseph Clark have been tracking the messy deliberations among the Justice Department, National Archives, White House and congressional Republicans, who say archivists threw the White House a lifeline by declining to share the discovered documents without clearance from the DOJ.

The White House, meanwhile, is avoiding questions about the docs by saying they don’t want to provide “incomplete” information while special counsel Robert Hur investigates. The situation is putting White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre to the test, as she spars with reporters in the blistering spotlight.

House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer said he is alarmed by the White House’s secrecy and pledged strict oversight. 

All the while, the GOP is once again asking “Where’s Hunter?” in the whole mess.

In the ‘Twitter Files’

New Twitter Files. Twitter owner Elon Musk’s latest reveal of internal docs shows manufacturers of the leading COVID-19 vaccines tried to silence users demanding generic vaccines for low-income countries. The push expanded into a broad censorship campaign to “shape” content about vaccine policy.

Another release shows staffers for Rep. Adam Schiff, California Democrat, pushed Twitter to remove a picture mocking then-presidential candidate Joseph R. Biden from the platform, saying it could lead to a slippery slope. 

At the White House

The government is getting bigger. The federal workforce is set to grow to levels unseen since the height of the Obama administration. The ballooning number of full timers, part timers and federal contractors is an outgrowth of Mr. Biden’s marquee legislative wins, but Republicans fear the federal imprint is will reach too far into Americans’ lives, The Washington Times’ Haris Alic reports.

The expansion project is running into headwinds at the IRS, where an inspector general said Democratic plans to inject $80 billion into the revenue agency and hire thousands of auditors are stumbling out of the gate. The IRS is confronting a tricky job market and a lack of expedited hiring authority.

John Kerry is facing pressure from environmentalists to step up his game as Mr. Biden’s climate czar, saying there is too much talk and not enough action, writes TWT energy and environment reporter Ramsey Touchberry. Activists want the U.S. to fulfill a multinational pledge to end direct international public financing for fossil fuels and to provide money to a United Nations fund for poorer countries most affected by climate change.

On Capitol Hill

Take it to the limit. The federal government bumped up against its borrowing limit Thursday, prompting a standoff between the White House and Democrats — who say raising the debt limit is non-negotiable — and House Republicans who are refusing to raise the fiscal ceiling unless the Democratic-led Senate and the White House agree to hefty spending cuts.

House Republicans are off to a fast legislative start to their new majority, firing off bills that, among other things, would rehire military members fired for not getting the COVID-19 vaccine and strip funding from cities or states that let noncitizens vote in elections, as detailed by TWT’s Stephen Dinan. The most popular bill so far is one from Rep. Kat Cammack of Florida that would give Congress a veto over any major regulation an administration tries to issue.

The House GOP’s imprint extends beyond legislation. It overhauled the House Ethics Committee, saying the bipartisan investigatory body is targeting Republicans too often compared to Democrats. The new majority is imposing term limits on committee members and said outside groups and individuals will be able to file ethics complaints against lawmakers directly to the committee, On Background co-author Susan Ferrechio reports.

The new GOP majority also reinstated a rule that lets Congress slash the salary of anyone in the federal government. Some lawmakers are targeting Jack Smith, the special counsel appointed to investigate classified documents found at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida.

There’s a Senate ballot bonanza unfolding in California. Several high-profile Democrats are jockeying to succeed Sen. Dianne Feinstein in 2024 even though the 89-year-old hasn’t announced her plans for when her term expires. Two-term Rep. Katie Porter announced her bid, while Rep. Barbara Lee, 76, has reportedly told colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus she will also run. Mr. Schiff and Rep. Ro Khanna also are eyeing the seat.

In our opinion

Charlie Hurt goes after Hunter Biden, who was in court trying to get a judge to block his 4-year-old daughter from being allowed to use the “Biden” name.

The Biden administration’s quickly killed plan to ban gas stoves is a lesson, Michael McKenna writes: Don’t let the government make your decisions for you.

Everett Piper argues against a call by liberals to lower the federal voting age to 16, saying the move “has to be one of the dumbest things ever uttered by our progressive betters.”

Click here to sign up and continue to receive On Background from Susan Ferrechio and Tom Howell Jr. every Friday morning.

• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at sferrechio@washingtontimes.com.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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