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The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

Biden pushes Congress to avoid rail strike. But how quickly can it act?

The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

Good morning, Early Birds. Our condolences to the family, colleagues and staff of Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.), who died Monday evening. We’ve included several tributes below. Tips: earlytips@washpost.com. Thanks for waking up with us.

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In today’s edition …  Senate same-sex marriage bill on verge of passing … Some Republicans issue rare rebuke of Trump over dinner with Fuentes and Ye … Wyden demands financial data from Binance, other crypto firms, Tony Romm reports … Toluse Olorunnipa on why Biden is seizing on gun control despite hurdles in Congress … What we're watching: Biden in Michigan … but first …

On the Hill

Biden pushes Congress to avoid rail strike. But how quickly can it act?

Congress’s lame-duck to-do list just got longer.

As we previewed Monday morning, there was a good chance Congress would have to intervene in negotiations between unions and railroad companies as a potential strike loomed as early as Dec. 9. But lawmakers were reluctant to act or say anything until President Biden offered direction.

On Monday evening, he did.

Biden sent a directive calling on lawmakers to pass legislation adopting the “tentative agreement” between workers and management reached in September. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) quickly announced that she would bring up the legislation this week. The Senate is likely to act soon after.

Democrats’ union dilemma

Pelosi and Biden said they are supportive of workers’ demands for paid sick days but that they cannot be addressed right now.

“Some in Congress want to modify the deal to either improve it for labor or for management,” Biden said in a statement. “However well-intentioned, any changes would risk delay and a debilitating shutdown. The agreement was reached in good faith by both sides.”

Pelosi said: “We are reluctant to bypass the standard ratification process for the Tentative Agreement — but we must act to prevent a catastrophic nationwide rail strike, which would grind our economy to a halt.”

This stance puts Democrats in the awkward position of opposing the unions who voted against the agreement — which would affect 115,000 workers — creating potential  tensions between Democratic leaders and their political allies in organized labor. And it could cause divisions in the party between the most pro-union lawmakers and those whose top priority is heading off a strike.

Tight time frame

Time is of the essence, and it's too early to tell whether any members will try to slow down the process. Biden and congressional leaders want to pass bill as soon as possible — and well ahead of the Dec. 9 deadline.

Any delay could make it harder for lawmakers to pass legislation to fund the government and the National Defense Authorization Act — not to mention everything Democrats want to do before they relinquish control of the House to Republicans in January.

Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.), the top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, told The Early on Monday night minutes before the president's directive came out that his bill from the first round of negotiations this summer is the right one.

The bill, which Burr introduced with Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), would have implemented the Biden advisory panel’s recommendations, which gave workers fewer concessions than the union-negotiated “tentative agreement.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) “needs to tell us how many Democrats he’s going to bring to the table,” he said, noting that his bill had the support of 48 Republicans.

When Burr tried to pass his measure on the floor in September, it was blocked by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). 

On Monday night, Sanders said the “tentative agreement” doesn't go far enough “by any means.”

“I would like to see management come to the table and treat their workers with respect,” Sanders said. “If they don't, then Congress has got to act to make sure that there is guaranteed sick leave for these workers.”

The backstory

Railroad companies have been negotiating with the unions for the past three years. In August, a presidential emergency board established by Biden recommended a compromise. The two sides reached a tentative agreement in September that would raise wages and give workers an additional paid day off but doesn’t meet their demands for paid sick leave.

Most of the 12 unions that must ratify a new contract have voted to approve it, but four of them voted to reject it.

In his statement, Biden said he sympathized with the workers.

“As a proud pro-labor President, I am reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement,” he said. “But in this case — where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families — I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal.”

Congress has intervened at least 18 times since the passage of the Railway Labor Act in 1926 to prevent crippling strikes — and it has moved rapidly at times. Lawmakers halted a 1991 strike in less than 24 hours, even as some expressed misgivings about doing so.

“Most of us members of Congress feel somewhat uncomfortable in a position of settling a labor-management dispute via legislation,” Donald L. Ritter, a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, said ahead of the 1991 strike.

Problems already arising

The effect of an impending strike is already being felt. Chemical companies and essential product manufacturers have been making divergent plans to avoid rail travel. The administration and economists warned of dire economic consequences if the railroads went on strike at a time when the supply chain is slow for some parts of the economy.

Our colleagues Lauren Kaori Gurley, Tyler Pager and Tony Romm report that corporate America is pressing Congress to act:

  • “The U.S. Chamber of Congress and some 400 business groups, representing a wide range of industries, from meatpackers to jewelers, sent a letter to Congress on Monday saying the looming rail strike is of ‘grave urgency.’ They called for Congress to intervene before the strike deadline if a deal is not reached to ‘ensure continued rail service.’”

Same-sex marriage bill on verge of passing

The Senate will vote on final passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would require states to recognize same-sex marriages and repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

Twelve Republicans voted for the procedural votes on the measure, and some lawmakers and aides predict that the tally will rise on final passage. We’ll see.

The Senate vote will come after three amendments from Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) that they say would strengthen religious liberty protections, all of which will fail.

After the Senate passes its version of the bill, it must go back to the House, which passed its own version,  before it heads to Biden’s desk.

Remembering Rep. A. Donald McEachin

From Mar-a-Lago

Some Republicans issue rare rebuke of Trump over dinner with Fuentes and Ye

Rare rebukes on the menu: “Former vice president Mike Pence and numerous Republican lawmakers on Monday criticized Donald Trump for dining with the white nationalist Nick Fuentes and the rapper Ye, both of whom have a history of antisemitic remarks, marking a rare break with Trump in the upper echelons of the GOP,” our colleagues Amy B Wang, Mariana Alfaro and Liz Goodwin report. “The public critiques of Trump were notable after years in which many Republicans remained silent as he courted extremists.”

  • Pence: “President Trump was wrong to give a white nationalist, an antisemite and a Holocaust denier a seat at the table,” Pence said in an interview with NewsNation. “I think he should apologize for it, and he should denounce those individuals and their hateful rhetoric without qualification.”
  • Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.): “President Trump hosting racist antisemites for dinner encourages other racist antisemites,” Cassidy tweeted. “These attitudes are immoral and should not be entertained. This is not the Republican Party.”
  • Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.): “I totally think it’s ridiculous to be sitting down with somebody who espouses such views,” Capito told reporters Monday.
  • Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine): “The president should never have had a meal or even a meeting with Nick Fuentes,” Collins said in a statement.
  • Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.): “I don’t know who was advising [Trump] on his staff, but I hope that whoever that person was got fired,” Thune told reporters Monday.

The investigations

Wyden demands financial data from Binance, other crypto firms

🔎The crypto fallout continues …: “A top Senate Democrat on Tuesday pressed Binance and other major cryptocurrency exchanges to explain how they would protect their customers in the event of a financial calamity, as Washington braces for further fallout from the collapse of FTX,” per our colleague Tony Romm.

  • “The new requests for information — sent by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the leader of the tax-focused Senate Finance Committee — arrived as Democrats weighed a battery of new bills and oversight hearings targeting the mostly unregulated crypto industry.”
  • “Wyden directed his letters to Binance, Kraken, KuCoin, Bitfinex and Gemini, major exchanges that allow customers worldwide to buy and sell various digital tokens. The senator asked them to reveal more information about the way they manage customers’ deposits and assets. Wyden also requested the firms’ balance sheets, while demanding they explain their policies in the event of a crisis, such as bankruptcy.”

At the White House

Biden seizes on gun control despite hurdles in Congress

All eyes on gun control — again: “Vexed by another string of mass shootings, Biden has begun calling vociferously on Congress to pass a ban on assault weapons, despite the extremely low odds that it will enact such a ban — a reflection of how he may seek to use Republicans as a foil now that a GOP takeover of the House is putting his legislative goals further out of reach,” our colleague Toluse Olorunnipa reports.

  • “The president’s declaration that it is ‘just sick’ that the United States allows the sale of semiautomatic weapons, coming after shootings in a Walmart in Virginia and an LGBTQ club in Colorado left a combined 11 people dead, does not reflect any illusions about the realities of divided government,” his aides told our colleague.
  • “But with an eye toward positioning himself and his party for 2024, Biden believes public opinion has shifted in Democrats’ favor on certain key social issues.”

What we're watching

Biden is heading to Michigan today to tout the investment by SK Group, a South Korean conglomerate, in a new wafer manufacturing plant in Bay City, Mich. The wafers are used semiconductors. (Our colleague Jeanne Whalen detailed the manufacturing process last year.)

It is Biden’s seventh trip to Michigan since taking office. He is expected to talk up his economic record, as well as Democrats’ victories in the state in the midterms, according to a White House official. He will be joined by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Rep. Daniel Kildee, both Democrats who won reelection earlier this month by surprisingly wide margins. Democrats also took control of Michigan’s state legislature.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today for U.S. v. Texas, a case that challenges Biden’s policymaking authority. At issue is whether the Biden administration can prioritize the detention of migrants who pose a threat to national security or public safety over other migrants. This case is one of several Republican-backed lawsuits aimed at slowing or overturning Biden administration policies. The Supreme Court struck down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national eviction moratorium last year, as well as the vaccination-or-testing requirement for the country’s largest employers in January.

Finally, the U.S. men’s national soccer team faces off against Iran today at 2 p.m. Eastern time. The two teams will meet under the shadow of rising geopolitical tensions following calls from Iranian state media to kick the United States out of the World Cup after the U.S. Soccer Federation removed a symbol from the country’s national flag in a show of support for Iranian protesters.

The Data

Russia’s territorial gains and losses, visualized: “Before the war, Moscow controlled about 17,000 square miles of Ukraine’s land, split up into Crimea (annexed by the Kremlin in 2014) and the separatist-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk,” our colleague Júlia Ledur reports. “As of Nov. 17, Russia controlled some 40,000 square miles in Ukraine, mainly in the east and south. That’s about 17 percent of the country.”

The Media

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