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NotedDC — White House faces growing pressure over air travel

A United ERJ-170 lands at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va.
Greg Nash

Democrats are pressuring the Biden administration to fine airlines amid pilot and staff shortages, with thousands of canceled flights heading into a busy travel season.

Airlines are struggling to meet demand amid turning tides from the pandemic, our colleagues report for The Hill, and the White House is facing growing pressure from politicians to fine airlines for delays.

John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s Democratic candidate for Senate, is calling on the Department of Transportation to fine airlines up to $27,500 per passenger for every flight where “they knew they didn’t have the staff to fly.” Fetterman argues the government “has a responsibility to hold these airlines accountable.”

Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) wrote letters to 10 major domestic airlines, urging them to address their schedule issues for the rest of the summer. They also asked them to provide information by mid-July on how many flights were delayed and canceled and how many passengers received refunds.

And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) addressed Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Wednesday, asking him to act against airlines, such as fining them for delays and for scheduling flights they know they are unable to staff. Buttigieg said in mid-June his agency could act against airlines that don’t meet consumer-protection standards.

Some context: Airlines blame the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for not providing a plan on personnel ahead of the summer, but the FAA and Biden administration argue that the $54 billion in pandemic relief funds should have allowed them to beef up their personnel.

Many lawmakers also noted that under former President Obama, the DOT enforced restrictions on how long a plane could sit on the runway without getting fined.

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Biden officials brace for next Supreme Court rulings

The Supreme Court is poised to hand down decisions on two consequential cases for the Biden administration on Thursday, the last day of its term:

West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency

The Supreme Court is likely to weaken the EPA’s ability to regulate emissions from power plants, undermining the Biden administration’s agenda to fight climate change.

If the court rules against the EPA — following recent controversial decisions on guns and abortion — expect protests to sprout up around D.C. and other major cities.

  • Potential implications from the ruling, via The Hill’s Rachel Frazin
  • Something to watch: Climate youth group Sunrise Movement D.C. plans to protest in front of the court on Thursday with other protest groups like Shut Down DC and Arm in Arm, organizer Mike Warburton tells NotedDC.

Biden v. Texas

The court will rule on whether President Biden can end a Trump-era immigration policy, known as the “remain in Mexico” rule, that forces asylum-seekers from Mexico to remain at the border while their applications are being processed.

  • The Hill’s John Kruzel reports that under Trump, more than 70,000 asylum-seekers were returned to Mexico under the policy. Previously, they were allowed to apply for asylum while staying in the U.S.
  • In the background: The ruling comes on the heels of 50 migrants found dead in a tractor-trailer near San Antonio, which Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told Politico Wednesday has reignited stalled immigration reform talks.

BYE, BYE, BREYER

Justice Stephen Breyer has made it official: He’s leaving the Supreme Court on Thursday at noon after it wraps up its current term.

  • The justice, who has been on the high court since 1994, when he was nominated by then-President Clinton, has been a key part of the liberal wing.
  • He’ll be replaced by Ketanji Brown Jackson, who will become the first Black woman and the first former federal public defender to serve on the high court.

You can watch a livestream of Jackson’s swearing-in ceremony on the Supreme Court’s website at noon on Thursday. Read more about Breyer’s retirement here

Alex Wagner set for new prime-time perch

NBC News sees Rachel Maddow’s prime-time cutback to host a podcast and focus on other long-term gigs for the network as a risk — but one it hopes pays off.

  • “It’s a great case study in sort of this proliferation of platforms,” NBCUniversal News Group Chairman Cesar Conde said this week at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
  • The Hill’s Dominick Mastrangelo writes that her shift signals that NBC is willing to pour more energy into streaming and audio ventures that haven’t been successful for other major networks like CNN.

Alex Wagner, a journalist and MSNBC political analyst, will replace Maddow four nights a week (Maddow will still host on Mondays at 9 p.m. Eastern).

  • A big question: Will Wagner be able to draw as large of an audience as Maddow? That’s something MSNBC likely wrestled with, given Maddow drew in some of the biggest ratings in cable news.
  • MSNBC President Rashida Jones offered a sneak-peek to The New York Times into what Wagner’s show won’t look like: “This is not a show where our hair is on fire and we’re yelling past each other, and we’re creating these manufactured moments of tension.”

MORE WASHINGTON MOVES

The Hill’s Karl Evers-Hillstrom has a weekly roundup of where people are moving in the lobbying world (and you can send us your professional updates, too!).

Here are some highlights:

  • Geoff Freeman will be the next president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association 
  • Paul Sass will be joining Cassidy & Associates, leaving his role as Republican staff director for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee 
  • Andrew Usyk joined Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP as a policy director 
  • Michael Held joined WilmerHale as a partner in the firm’s securities and financial services department. 
  • Kelly Hitchcock joined Invariant LLC as a director working with the firm’s financial services and tax clients 
  • Christopher Gaspar, most recently the director of government affairs at Textron Inc., joined BAE Systems as a director of government affairs.

DC restaurants added to the top US wine list

A familiar D.C. eatery is on Wine Spectator‘s newly released list of Grand Award winners, noted for “extraordinary” wine service: Fiola, the upscale Italian joint just steps from the National Mall. (You can find all the U.S. Grand Award winners here.)

Nearly 50 other D.C.-area restaurants are honored for their wine selections, including several added this year and found here.

Wine Spectator’s editorial team hosted guests and top winemakers at the Ronald Reagan Building earlier this month.

Scooters around the Capitol? It’s complicated.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) scored a win for residents who like sledding on Capitol grounds in the snowy winter months, but the push for allowing scooters around the complex faces continued hurdles.

Scooters, while not an uncommon sight at the Capitol, are technically banned from the area. That won’t be changing anytime soon under an appropriations bill that the House has advanced. 

“I am pleased with the victories for D.C. in this bill,” Norton said in a statement Thursday. “However, I am disappointed that the report accompanying the bill continues to support the existing ban on electric scooters at the Capitol complex.”

That’s it for today. Stay with TheHill.com for the latest and recommend NotedDC to others: thehill.com/noted.

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Tags air travel Alex Wagner Bernie Sanders Biden Ed Markey Fiola John Fetterman July 4th weekend Ketanji Brown Jackson Ketanji Brown Jackson Pete Buttigieg Scooters Stephen Breyer Stephen Breyer Supreme Court
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