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The Paper Trail: October 31, 2023

Senate Seeks Subpoenas for SCOTUS Sugar Daddies; State Pushback to EPA Enforcement; $1.3B Power Grid Investment Falls Short; and More. 

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Top stories for October 31, 2023

Senate Judiciary Committee to vote on subpoenas for Harlan Crow, Leonard Leo, Robin Arkley II: “The Supreme Court is in an ethical crisis of its own making,” Sens. Dick Durbin and Sheldon Whitehouse wrote in a joint statement. “In order to adequately address this crisis, it is imperative that we understand the full extent of how people with interests before the Court are able to use undisclosed gifts to gain private access to the justices.” (Miranda Nazzaro, The Hill)

🔎 See Also: House Republicans investigating DC probe of Federalist Society chief (Stephen Neukam, The Messenger)

Another state refuses to cooperate with EPA on environmental justice: In the latest example of state pushback to civil rights enforcement by the EPA, a Texas agency pulled out of negotiations to resolve complaints alleging its decisions on pollution are racially discriminatory. (Jamie Smith Hopkins, Center for Public Integrity)

A major student-loan company failed to send on-time billing statements to 2.5 million borrowers. Biden’s Education Department is punishing it: The Education Department will withhold $7.2 million from student-loan company MOHELA for failing to send billing statements on time to 2.5 million borrowers, leading to over 800,000 of them being marked as delinquent. Since federal student-loan payments resumed in October, many borrowers have reported a range of issues with their servicer. (Ayelet Sheffey, Insider)

🔎 See Also: Biden administration proposes narrower path to student loan relief (Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, Washington Post)

Food insecurity shot up last year with inflation and the end of pandemic-era aid, a new report says: An estimated 17 million households reported problems finding enough food in 2022 — a sharp jump from 2021 when boosted government aid helped ease the pandemic-induced economic shutdown. (Associated Press)

Israel-Hamas War

Biden administration unveils new actions to combat antisemitism on college campuses: DOJ and DHS are partnering with campus law enforcement to track hate-related rhetoric online and provide federal resources to schools amid an uptick in antisemitism incidents since the Israel-Hamas war started. (Monica Alba and Peter Alexander, NBC News)

Insurrection

Colorado trial considers whether the 14th Amendment disqualifies Trump: The plaintiffs in the state case will argue that former President Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election — namely his actions before and while his supporters stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021 — meet the constitutional disqualification criteria and bar him from ever holding public office again. A similar case in Minnesota is also scheduled to start this week. (Maggie Astor, New York Times)

Dobbs Aftermath

Faced with abortion bans, doctors beg hospitals for help with key decisions: Vague state abortion laws and a lack of guidance on how to interpret them have led to struggles between doctors making life-or-death decisions at great personal risk and hospital administrators navigating untested legal terrain. As a result, some patients are being denied care until they are critically ill. (Caroline Kitchener and Dan Diamond, Washington Post)

Kansas judge blocks 24-hour waiting period for women-seeking abortions: More than two-thirds of Kansas abortion clinics’ patients come from out of state. The Dobbs decision led to unprecedented demand at Kansas clinics and a 57% rise in abortions in 2022 — a figure that likely would be even higher if clinics had more availability. (Rose Conlon, NPR)

COVID-19

Fall COVID shot uptake is an “abysmal” 7%; wastewater testing impaired: Poor vaccination uptake is one challenge to fortifying the U.S. against another COVID wave. Another is the ongoing erosion of surveillance and data reporting. (Beth Mole, Ars Technica)

Indoor air systems crucial to curbing spread of viruses, aerosol researchers say: Viruses like the one that causes COVID can travel through the air much farther than six feet. So public health advice focusing on social distancing, handwashing, and masking wasn’t enough: Air quality scientists say, from the start of the pandemic, the advice also should have focused on improving the air we breathe indoors. (Jon Lapook, 60 Minutes)

Defense and Veterans Affairs

Tuberville says he will keep blocking military promotions despite Israel’s war: Sen. Tommy Tuberville, who has held up military promotions since February, slammed a proposal being floated to change the chamber’s rules to allow a vote on many of the promotions. Tuberville’s hold is affecting a number of senior military posts in the Middle East. (Sam Fossum and Manu Raju, CNN)

Army National Guard’s bonus backlog started with 2018 Pentagon fire: The National Guard Bureau is tracking more than 9,000 delinquent bonus payments to current members of the Army National Guard. Officials are aware that 3,900 discharged soldiers may be owed bonuses. (Davis Winkie, Military Times)

Analysis: F-35 and A-10 close air support flyoff report: Questions remain about the F-35’s ability to fill the A-10’s close air support role, and a report obtained through FOIA detailing the results of comparative tests conducted in 2018 and 2019 between the two programs casts even more doubt. (Dan Grazier, Project On Government Oversight)

Business and Finance

Vonage customers to get nearly $100 million in refunds over junk fees: The FTC alleges that the internet phone service provider charged consumers junk fees and made it hard for them to cancel their service. (Megan Cerullo, CBS News)

A $96 million Hindu temple opens amid accusations of forced labor: The Akshardham Mahamandir in New Jersey is believed to be the largest temple in the Western Hemisphere. But its construction has been clouded by allegations of forced labor and poor working conditions. (Sarah Pulliam Bailey, New York Times)

Tech

Scams are targeting teenagers. Here’s how to keep your kids safe: The number of teens targeted by online scammers is low compared with other age groups because they’re not as lucrative. The one thing teens have that’s valuable are their accounts, which scammers use to get to their parents, their teachers, and other adults. (Heather Kelly, Washington Post)

U.S. regulators sue SolarWinds and its security chief for alleged cyber neglect ahead of Russian hack: The SEC claims SolarWinds and its then vice president of security defrauded investors and customers “through misstatements, omissions and schemes” that concealed both the company’s “poor cybersecurity practices and its heightened — and increasing — cybersecurity risks.” The 2020 SolarWinds hack penetrated U.S. government agencies and more than 100 private companies and think tanks. (Frank Bajak, Associated Press)

Infrastructure

Energy Dept. pours billions into power grids but warns it’s not enough: The Energy Department announced $1.3 billion to help build three large power lines across six states, part of a new gusher of money from Washington to upgrade America’s electric grids. But officials warned it won’t be enough. (Brad Plumer, New York Times)

America’s offshore wind ambitions are coming with bigger price tags: Soaring costs are pushing up the price of wind-power projects, challenging America’s shift to renewable energy and potentially leading to larger-than-expected bills for residents. (David Uberti, Wall Street Journal)

Health Care

Insurers spar with Biden administration over coverage for mental-health care: Many consumers must pay hundreds and even thousands of dollars a year on mental health care despite a 15-year-old law that is supposed to make such treatment affordable. Insurers are fighting new requirements that would reduce out-of-pocket costs for mental health and substance abuse treatment. (Stephanie Armour, Wall Street Journal)

🔎 See Also: When that supposedly free annual physical generates a bill (Julie Appleby, CBS News)

Biden administration calls on schools to stock naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug: Amid a rising overdose death rate among teens, the Biden administration is urging schools to purchase and carry the opioid overdose antidote naloxone. (Amanda Musa, CNN)

ICYMI

Immigration and Border Security:

Court temporarily bars federal officials from removing Texas border wire

Some 5,000 migrants set out on foot from Mexico’s southern border, tired of long waits for visas

Other News:

Top Philips executive approved sale of defective breathing machines by distributors, despite tests showing health risks

Santos, Tlaib, Greene: House looks to police its own members

1 in 4 U.S. medical students consider quitting, most don’t plan to treat patients

Child marriage is still legal in most of the U.S. Here’s why

Upcoming Events

📌 Policy Forum: Government Censorship by Proxy. Cato Institute. Thursday, November 2, 10:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m., 1000 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington DC.

📌 Free Speech: What Everyone Needs to Know. Cato Institute. Monday, November 6, 1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m., 1000 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington DC.

Hot Docs

🔥📃 GAO - VA Disability Benefits: Actions Needed to Address Challenges Reserve Component Members Face Accessing Compensation. GAO-24-105400(PDF)

🔥📃 Public Citizen: Corporate Prosecution Doldrums: In 2022, DOJ Corporate Crime Prosecutions Remain Near Record Low. October 30, 2023(PDF)