Governors attempt to bridge deep political divides in major DC meeting

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WASHINGTON — Governors of both parties from across the United States gathered here over the weekend to try to speak with a unified front about what their states want from the federal government.

But the waters have been muddied by the clearly divided political views of governors on two major issues of the moment – ​​passing laws and whether Congress should pass a massive climate and social spending bill. One main area of ​​agreement: They love that the bipartisan Federal Infrastructure Act sends much-needed money to their states for bridges, roads, broadband and more.

Governors “have worked together to secure more resources so that we can fix our roads and build a more resilient and equitable infrastructure system,” said Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who has made infrastructure a key part of his 2018 campaign.

The National Governors Association’s winter meeting was the first time in two years that the bipartisan group met in the nation’s capital, due to the pandemic, and while there were repeated mentions of cross-party work policies, this overlap did not seem to extend very far.

As governors gathered at the White House on Monday, Vice President Kamala Harris said “in the spirit of bipartisanship,” governors should view states as laboratories of democracy, especially when it comes to the right to vote.

“I would ask that over the coming year, we work together to ensure that all Americans eligible to vote actually have meaningful access to the ballot,” Harris said.

His comments and those over the weekend from Republican governors touched on one of the biggest political disputes unfolding in states and Congress — whether voting laws should be expanded to allow eligible Americans to have more voting options, or tightened to prevent possible fraud.

Anyone who wants to talk about the last election will lose the next election.

– Governor Asa Hutchinson, R-Arkansas

False claims by former President Donald Trump and some Congressional Republicans about the validity of the last election have led some GOP-controlled states to revamp their election laws and others may do so this year ahead of the midterm elections. mandate.

Many Democrats say the various changes to state election laws will disenfranchise minority and campaign voters, making it harder to vote.

Republicans generally disagree, saying the changes are necessary to avoid potential future fraud. The Justice Department under the Trump administration has found no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Congressional Democrats have attempted to set minimum voting standards for each state, though GOP senators have blocked that legislation from moving forward.

NGA Chairman and Republican Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson addressed the 2020 presidential election in response to a question from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette during a Saturday morning press briefing, saying that he did not believe the election was stolen and respected the results.

“For me, it’s all about the future. Anyone who wants to talk about the last election will lose the next election. And so that’s what I’m focused on,’ he said, appearing to take aim at Trump – who continues to post false claims about the last election while implying he will run again in 2024. .

Hutchinson said, however, that states should change their election laws as they see fit.

“Some states, which is their prerogative, have adjusted their election rules both to expand access to vote, but also to ensure votes have integrity,” he said.

Hutchinson on Sunday criticized Biden’s trip to Atlanta in early January, where the president urged Congress to pass voting rights protections. Hutchinson said the speech, which focused on a fundamental Democratic legislative goal, was not an example of bipartisanship.

“You have to be even more careful as president, compared to any time you’re in the House or the Senate, and that’s more important in that regard,” Hutchinson said. “So I urge the president to really use the tone that reflects civility and bipartisanship at all levels.”

Hutchinson signed his Republican-controlled legislature’s bill last year that changed state voting requirements and would restrict polling places and mail-in ballots.

He also has sign another bill that enacted strict voter identification requirements. The state will no longer allow people without ID to vote, even if they sign a statement confirming their identity.

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Building back better

Republican and Democratic governors were also at odds over whether Congress should pass Democrats’ $1.5 trillion climate and social spending agenda known as Build Back Better, currently stalled due to objections from Democratic West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin III.

“I think there’s a difference in philosophy as to whether it’s necessary,” Hutchinson said.

Democratic lawmakers and the White House are negotiating how to pass a scaled-down version of the bill that could provide a slew of programs, including universal preschool, a cap on child care fees and programs to curb climate change.

Colorado Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, a former U.S. House member, said the NGA’s role is not necessarily to resolve those political and policy differences, but to find common ground and trying to speak with one voice on these issues.

When it comes to federal spending legislation, he said, that voice typically calls on the federal government to “maximize state and governor discretion.”

“While we may not always agree on what needs to be done – regardless of vehicle, party and politics – we want to make sure [it] can work at the state level,” Polis said.

“As the language emerges, I would expect us to be upfront about giving governors and giving states discretion to use funds best rather than being strictly dictated by Washington.”

problem solvers

Wanting to underscore the bipartisan nature of the National Governors Association, Hutchinson and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat and the group’s vice chairman, spent an hour discussing the importance of working together.

“We are problem solvers,” Hutchinson said, adding that there were some policies Republicans and Democrats could agree on.

Murphy agreed, but neither governor said what policies the two sides had agreed to and could work on together.

“You don’t have to give up your principles to find common ground,” Murphy said.

Hutchinson said if the president expects to pass his social spending and climate package, he will have to work with Republicans. He said there were certain parts of the bill that Republicans would likely accept, but did not specify what those parts were.

Roads and bridges

One area on which Democratic and Republican governors strongly agreed was the bipartisan infrastructure law.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told governors over the weekend that he would work with them to quickly provide federal funding to their states. The administration issued a guide Monday to outline the resources available to state and local authorities under the law.

Governors, he said, were instrumental in “shaping the design” of the law and advocating for it to become a reality.

“We’ve seen governors from so-called red states and so-called blue states calling for investments like this,” Buttigieg said.

Governors from both parties praised the law during the Buttigieg session.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who led an NGA infrastructure initiative when he chaired the organization in 2019 and 2020, said he was pleased the group’s recommendations were included in the NGA Act. infrastructure.

Hogan was particularly pleased with measures advancing public-private partnerships, he said.

You don’t have to give up your principles to find common ground

– Governor Phil Murphy, D-New Jersey

The governors’ agenda also included a black-tie dinner with the Bidens at Mount Vernon on Sunday evening, followed by Monday’s meeting at the White House.

Attendees of the White House event included: Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, Idaho Governor Brad Little, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, Maine Governor Janet Mills, Hogan, Whitmer, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, Murphy, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, Oregon Governor Kate Brown and Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers.

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