As President Trump weighs the extraordinary step of declaring a national emergency to unilaterally build a wall along the southern border, Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th District) is urging Trump to return to the negotiating table and put federal employees back to work.
Like any member of Congress representing the D.C. suburbs, Beyer is no great fan of government shutdowns, which threaten the livelihoods of thousands of constituents in his Arlington and Alexandria-area district. But this latest, 18-day shutdown (now the second longest in the country’s history) is testing Beyer’s patience more than most.
He can’t understand what Trump hopes to achieve with his demands for $5.7 billion to build a wall on the Mexican border, or why he’s worked with Congressional Republicans to shutter the government while this latest immigration debate plays out. Unlike some of his Democratic colleagues, Beyer feels there’s room to negotiate on the issue — but he remains puzzled by the president’s refusal to engage on the matter.
“I know Donald Trump didn’t write the ‘Art of the Deal,’ but he may not have read it either,” Beyer told ARLnow. “I don’t think Democrats are against spending $5 billion more on border security, but let’s work hard on the language to make sure it turns into something that actually makes a difference, rather than something that’s a campaign symbol… Maybe I spent too many years as an auto dealer, but I’m always looking for a win-win scenario.”
Beyer believes that Democrats in Congress could well be open to reviving the outlines of a bipartisan immigration deal hashed out among leaders last year, exchanging new funding for border security for new protections for people previously protected from deportation under the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” program. Yet Trump and other immigration hardliners in his party scuttled that arrangement the last time Congress squared off over the issue, and Beyer doesn’t see much reason for optimism this time around.
Furthermore, Beyer sees Trump’s intimations that he could use his emergency powers as president to bypass Congress and build the wall as “frightening.” Such an effort would undoubtedly face court challenges, as experts agree that there is no migration crisis currently afflicting the country, but speculation abounds that Trump could make an emergency declaration during his televised address from the White House tonight.
“It just ratchets up the tension and dissension far more than is appropriate,” Beyer said. “If the wall was so important, why did it take two whole years into his presidency before he put it into an appropriations bill? This is no national emergency.”
But should the shutdown continue, Beyer says his newly empowered colleagues in the House plan to “make it as easy as possible to open the government back up.” Starting today (Tuesday), he says Speaker Nancy Pelosi will begin calling votes on bills to reopen one federal agency at a time.
That way, Beyer hopes that some important staffers — like those at the IRS preparing to mail out tax returns — could get back to work, even as the immigration debate drags on.
And that sort of tack would also allow many of Beyer’s constituents to start earning paychecks again.
He says he’s heard from thousands of federal workers, both in the D.C. area and around the country, who are suffering due to financial insecurity stemming from the shutdown. To that end, Beyer managed to help pass language to protect back pay for affected employees through the House, but fears Trump wouldn’t sign off on the change, even if it clears the Senate.
Beyer’s also backing efforts to secure pay for some federal contractors, as are Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner (both D-Va.).
“Many people go into federal service because they cherish the idea of public service,” Beyer said. “No one does it for the money. The security is one of the small benefits. Or, at least, it used to be.”
Yet Beyer feels the shutdown is doing more than just unnecessarily squeezing his constituents — he believes its distracting Congress from other pressing priorities, particularly as Democrats regain control of the House for the first time in years.
Whenever Congress can return to normal business, Beyer thinks there is room for some agreement on bills he’s backing around issues like suicide prevention and wildlife conservation.
But he is cognizant of the fact that the Republican-controlled Senate, to say nothing of Trump’s veto pen, will limit how much he can actually pass over the next two years. That’s why he’s more enthusiastic about the new oversight powers Democrats gain now that they’re chairing House committees.
Beyer helped lead investigations into former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s conduct in office, and was one of Pruitt’s leading congressional critics before he resigned under a cloud of scandal. But Beyer is no great fan of Pruitt’s replacement, Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist.
Accordingly, he sees plenty of room for more EPA oversight now that Democrats will wield expanded investigatory power, though he did sound a note of caution on the topic.
“It’s really important that oversight be genuine oversight, focused on things not going well in the executive branch rather than political witch hunts,” Beyer said. “There are lots of legitimate, responsible things we can do in oversight to just make America a better country, and we can do it with Republicans.”
Pelosi and other Democratic leaders will also command more control over the federal budget, and that gives Beyer hope for progress on one of his other big priorities: solving the vexing problem of aircraft noise in Arlington.
Beyer previously proposed budget amendments directing the Federal Aviation Administration to tinker with the flight paths of military helicopters and create a new website to allow people to report aircraft noise complaints. Yet both of those failed to gain any traction under Republican leadership, and he’s holding out hope to make progress on these “two good legislative investments” in the coming months.
“With people like [Majority Leader and Maryland Rep.] Steny Hoyer in control, he’s a D.C. resident, I’m much more optimistic that we will the have power to make a difference on this,” Beyer said.
Amazon may be bringing thousands of new workers and a spate of new businesses right to the doorstep of Reagan National Airport, but don’t expect to start hearing too many more planes soaring over Arlington anytime soon.
At least, that’s the word from county leaders, airport officials and the airlines themselves. Despite the tech giant setting up shop right across from the airport in the newly dubbed “National Landing,” all parties involved believe that DCA is a bit too crowded to start welcoming passengers bound for the new headquarters.
“We’re really a constrained airport in terms of size, gate availability and runway capacity,” Andrew Trull, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, told ARLnow. “We just are not anticipating more flights heading toward Reagan.”
The potential for an increase in aircraft noise is just one of many concerns raised by county residents in the wake of Amazon’s big announcement last month, particularly because people in a variety of Arlington neighborhoods have already complained of planes bound for DCA keeping them awake at night. Reagan has also seen a surge in traffic in recent years, prompting all manner of county officials to try and take action on the issue.
But Trull points out that DCA is one of several airports around the country where the Federal Aviation Administration closely regulates how many planes pass through each year, a process known as “slot control.”
That leaves it up to Congress to determine if DCA is even allowed to welcome more aircraft in the first place, likely through an appropriations bill for the FAA. Lawmakers just passed the first such funding “reauthorization” legislation for the agency in six years this fall, and United Airlines spokeswoman Kimberly Gibbs points out that Congress “rejected any changes to this important rule” governing air traffic limits at DCA in the new bill.
While Gibbs added that she believes United is “uniquely positioned to serve these communities as they capitalize on the exciting opportunities that are headed their way,” she also didn’t have any service changes to announce.
Spokespeople for both Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines, another pair of carriers offering a bevy of flights between DCA and Amazon’s Seattle home, also said the companies weren’t planning any service increases at this time. Representatives for the other airlines serving DCA didn’t respond to requests for comment.
However, that’s not to say that Amazon’s arrival won’t prompt any changes at National. Though the number of flights may not increase in the coming years, Trull said it is possible that airlines could start flying larger planes into DCA to keep pace with rising demand.
For instance, airlines could replace smaller, regional jets on certain routes with much larger planes instead, a change that Trull says would be allowed under the “slot” rules.
“We could see an increase in capacity without an increase in the number of flights,” Trull said.
Executives with American Airlines have even begun publicly discussing such a possibility in recent days, and kicked off discussions with Amazon officials about which routes employees might start choosing as the company moves to Arlington.
Of course, Trull notes that any airline looking to expand at National should consider that airport was designed to serve 15 million passengers a year, but currently welcomes about 24 million annually. That’s helped prompt the airport’s major “Project Journey” renovations, which will ultimately eliminate the infamous regional gate “35X” in favor of new, dedicated space for those flights.
“A lot of people are wondering if it will add capacity, but the answer is ‘No,'” Trull said. “We see it as an improvement to the passenger experience… because we’re already dealing with so many people.”
Instead, the biggest beneficiary of Amazon’s arrival may well be National’s sister airport: Dulles International.
Trull points out that the MWAA has specifically worked to make Dulles “more competitive” in recent years, including major renovations to the airport and the (still ongoing) extension of Metro’s Silver Line to reach Dulles. Accordingly, he sees the Loudoun airport as the region’s “primary growth airport with upside potential” now that Amazon is in town.
Gibbs adds that Dulles will indeed be the main place that United ramps up service in the coming years, particularly because it offers international flights that will likely be attractive to a global company like Jeff Bezos’ bunch.
“One of the criteria Amazon raised with us was the proximity to the airport, but also to the two other airports in this region, with that benefit of global accessibility specifically,” Alex Iams, assistant director of Arlington Economic Development, said during a Dec. 6 question-and-answer session on Amazon.
Yet Arlington still seems set to benefit from Amazon-related visitors in one key way: new hotel bookings. Even if the tech company’s staffers won’t be spurring a flurry of new business at National, county officials do project that many visitors will opt to stay near the new headquarters.
In fact, they’ve even structured the county’s incentive package for Amazon around that expectation — Arlington plans to hand the company grant money that will be drawn solely from any increase the county sees in hotel tax revenues.
“We’re going to be seeing between 125,000 and 150,000 hotel nights coming into the market each year,” said Victor Hoskins, director of Arlington Economic Development. “I talk to our hotel owners and they’re delighted, they can’t believe it.”
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
Map Tracks Water Main Breaks — A new map created by Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services shows the location of the dozens of water main breaks in Arlington County since Nov. 1. “It has been a particularly brutal winter season in Arlington,” DES said via Twitter. [Google Maps]
Local History Archives Closing Temporarily — “Beginning February 1, the Center for Local History’s off-site Community Archives, located at the Woodmont Community Center, will temporarily close for a renovation project.” The archives are not open to the public but are available to researchers on a by-request basis. [Arlington County]
County to Release Amazon Bid Details — Win or lose, after Amazon’s HQ2 process concludes Arlington County plans to release details of its bid for the tech and online retail giant. Arlington is now among those in the Top 20 for the second corporate headquarters. [InsideNova]
Fake ID Stat from ACPD — Bouncers caught 703 fake IDs in Clarendon last year, according to stats from the Arlington County Police Department. Extra vigilance from establishments like Don Tito and Whitlow’s helps “maintain Clarendon has a safe place to enjoy nightlife and entertainment,” says ACPD. [Twitter]
Nearby: DCA Noise Case in Federal Court — “The three-year battle between residents in Northwest Washington and the Federal Aviation Administration over noise from flights at Reagan National Airport is now in the hands of a federal appeals court… A ruling, which could take several months, will be closely watched by communities across the country grappling with similar issues tied to the FAA’s efforts to modernize the nation’s air traffic system.” [Washington Post]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
Beyer Calls on Kushner to Resign — In light of his participation in a meeting with a Russian lawyer regarding potentially damaging information about Hillary Clinton, White House advisor Jared Kushner should either resign from his post or be fired, says Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.). Kushner “should be held to the highest ethical standard,” Beyer said. The Congressman has also introduced an amendment to a bill to block the Trump administration from setting up a joint “cyber security unit” with Russia. [Rep. Don Beyer, Rep. Don Beyer]
Most Dangerous Intersections in Arlington — The three most dangerous intersections in Arlington, by 2016 crash data, are: Washington Blvd and S. Walter Reed Drive (22 crashes), Army Navy Drive and S. Hayes Street (28 crashes), and Route 50 and Washington Blvd (37 crashes). [Arlington Magazine]
FAA Facility Issue Causes Delays — Construction-related fumes prompted the evacuation of a Federal Aviation Administration building in Leesburg last night and caused flights to be delayed at all three major Washington area airports for several hours. [WTOP, Washington Post]
Flickr pool photo by Bekah Richards
The FAA wants to shift the northbound flight path for planes taking off from Reagan National Airport directly over Rosslyn, a change that many residents expressed skepticism about during a public meeting last night at Washington-Lee High School.
“What we’re asking people to look at is a new proposed route that is an effort to relieve noise in the Foxhall Village section of [D.C.] and put planes more over the middle of the river,” said FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown. Residents of Northwest D.C. have been complaining about airplane noise for some time now, culminating in a letter to the FAA from D.C.’s attorney general earlier this year.
But the new proposed flight path could result in more noise for parts of Arlington, particularly the Rosslyn, Courthouse and North Highlands neighborhoods. (The new flight path would slightly shift planes away from some far northern Arlington communities.)
Some residents questioned why Arlington should be subject to more noise so that D.C. residents could have more peace and quiet.
“The problem with downtown airports is that they’re convenient and they’re noisy,” said Arlington resident and retired Naval aviator Jim Pebley. “You can have one, but you can’t have it without the other. The best we can do is distribute the noise equally between the District and us.”
Arlington County Board members Libby Garvey, Katie Cristol and John Vihstadt were in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting. Garvey on Monday wrote a letter to the FAA asking why data shows aircraft noise increasing in Arlington over the past couple of years. The letter asks the FAA to be more responsive to concerns from residents and localities about aircraft noise; it also asks the agency to propose alternatives for reducing noise.
“Arlington County firmly believes that improvements for both those on the ground and the flying public are possible and necessary,” the letter says. However, “it does not seem reasonable to the County that local communities, who are not experts on the needs, constraints and opportunities with regards to aviation, should be tasked with solving this problem.”
Another issue raised at the meeting: the safety implications of having jetliners flying even closer to Rosslyn’s tall buildings. The recently-released film ‘Sully,’ which recounted the Hudson River landing of US Airways Flight 1549 after striking a flock of geese on takeoff, was brought up.
“I’m worried about what this is going to do for a single engine out operation over Rosslyn,” Pebley said. “I ran the calculations. If you take off on a warm summer day and climbed up the best you could, you might make it a couple hundred feet over the tallest building there. That’s really scary.”
The FAA will be holding two additional public meetings — in Georgetown tonight and Bethesda tomorrow — and will weigh public feedback at each of the three meetings, Brown said. A final decision on the flight path could be make as early as January 2017.
Civic Federation Debate — The candidates for Arlington County Board, School Board and Congress took the stage at Tuesday’s Arlington County Civic Federation meeting, marking the unofficial kickoff of general election campaign season. During the County Board debate, independent challenger Audrey Clement went on the attack against “backroom deals” allegedly facilitated by incumbent Libby Garvey. [InsideNova, InsideNova, InsideNova]
September Heat Wave — Temperatures are expected to soar into the upper 90s today, and the heat and humidity will stay mid-summer-like through Saturday. [Capital Weather Gang]
New Flight Path Closer to Arlington? — To appease unhappy Northwest D.C. residents, the FAA is considering a new northern departure flight path for Reagan National Airport that’s closer to Arlington. A community meeting will be held to discuss the plan on Tuesday, Sept. 13 from 6:30-9:30 p.m., at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington. [WUSA 9]
Outdoor Movies on the Pike — Four films are left on the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization outdoor movie calendar. Tonight, the critically-acclaimed film Brooklyn will be screened outside the Arlington Mill Community Center. [CPRO]
Clement Against Lubber Run Plan — County Board candidate Audrey Clement says it’s “inappropriate and unnecessary, given the county’s current 20% office vacancy rate,” for Arlington County to be planning to spend $46 million on a new four-story Lubber Run Community Center that will include new offices for the Dept. of Parks and Recreation. [Audrey Clement]
Beware the Cute Puppy Scam — Scammers are active on some local Facebook groups, trying to convince people to part with their cash and personal information to adopt a (fake) cute puppy from a (fake) man who can no longer afford to take care of it. [Fox 5]
The FAA launched a public outreach campaign this week to try to stop the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in the federal restricted airspace around D.C. It comes as a man was detained for flying a drone near the White House for the second time this year.
The area within a 15-mile radius of Reagan National Airport is restricted airspace, and all aircraft must get approval, even the small, remote-controlled kind.
“Anyone visiting the DC area should leave their drone at home,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a press release. “We want to make sure everyone knows and understands the rules about flying in the National Capital Region.”
The FAA says the D.C. region’s airspace is the most restricted in the county. It’s been tightly controlled since Sept. 11, 2001. Now, the new campaign is aimed at reminding residents and visitors of the area that nothing has changed.
The FAA is rolling out a GPS-enabled smartphone app that tells users when they are out of restricted airspace. They will also be providing materials to local jurisdictions — including Arlington, which sits entirely within the “No Drone Zone” — to educate their residents on the policy.
Image via the FAA