10 Things in Politics: Hill staffers burned out after hellish year

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Brent D. Griffiths
·7 min read
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congrssional staffer with hands up on January 6
Congressional staffers hold up their hands to Capitol Police officers on January 6, 2021. OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Image

Good morning! Welcome back to 10 Things in Politics, your weekday look at the biggest stories in DC and beyond. Sign up here to receive this newsletter.

Send tips to bgriffiths@insider.com or tweet me at @BrentGriffiths.

Here's what we're talking about today:

1. AN ALARMING TREND ON THE HILL: Even in normal times, working on Capitol Hill is no walk in the park. But the most devastating pandemic in a century and the worst attack on the Capitol since 1814 has taken a toll on the unsung staffers that make Congress run. Experts and staffers worry that exhaustion and trauma from an unprecedented year are pushing qualified people out the door - accelerating a preexisting brain drain.

Here's a peek at our story:

One staffer said some might read the story and think, "tough shit": But it's these often anonymous and overly ambitious workers who help lawmakers tackle the nation's most pressing issues. "This is an important institution, you want it to work well. And the conditions right now are very toxic," the same Democratic senior Senate staffer said. "I think the conditions here are setting the stage for long-term problems for our country."

  • Just how bad things are right now: "It's not even just tired," a Senate legislative aide told Insider. "It's been constant stimuli for over a year now. You just don't even feel it anymore, like your work is kind of in a catatonic state."

The insurrection remains a raw experience: "I've had virtual coffees and drinks with folks who start to tear up or cry when you talk about January 6. You can tell they're still very much struggling emotionally, mentally," said a former senior policy advisor who left at the end of 2020.

  • What's being done: Congress has designated offices that provide counseling to staffers: the House's Office of Employee Assistance, and the Senate's Employee Assistance Program. A coalition of government-advocacy and research groups also formed Capitol Strong to supplement those programs.

  • Outside experts want more: Increased levels of staffing, higher pay, and more opportunities for advancement and career growth are necessary to staunch the flow of talent heading out the door, Kristine Simmons of the Partnership for Public Service told Insider.

Read more of our exclusive report here.

VP Walter Mondale in the kitchen of the Vice President's Residence
Former Vice President Walter Mondale in 1977. AP Photo

2. Remembering Walter Mondale: Mondale, who served as Jimmy Carter's vice president, died on Monday at 93. Top Democrats pointed out his legacy of pushing progressive policies, selecting the first woman to be on a major party ticket, and fundamentally altering the vice presidency itself. More on his legacy.

Biden says Mondale "defined the vice presidency as a full partnership": Biden said Mondale was the first call he made when Obama offered him a spot on the ticket. More on their relationship here.

walter mondale jimmy carter
Mondale and former President Jimmy Carter during a celebration of Mondale's 90th birthday in 2018. Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Jimmy Carter said Mondale was "the best vice president in our country's history": Carter and Mondale surpassed Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 2006 as the longest living former president and vice president from the same administration, per The New York Times.

3. Derek Chauvin's fate is in the jury's hands: The fired Minneapolis police officer's defense closed by arguing that George Floyd's death was about more than just the 9 minutes and 29 seconds Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck. Eric Nelson, Chauvin's lawyer, also compared the case to baking cookies. The prosecution's final words: "You were told George Floyd died because his heart was too big. But he died because Derek Chauvin's heart was too small."

Highlights from the trial:

Screen Shot 2021 04 20 at 12.18.33 AM
Insider

4. Stories of New York's demise may have been exaggerated: "As the wealthy fled for the Hamptons, local restaurants shuttered their doors, and Times Square went quiet during the onset of the pandemic, many declared the city dead. But a year after it became the coronavirus epicenter of the world, NYC is starting to shine once again." NYC's real estate is rebounding and it's still home to more ultrawealthy individuals than any other city.

5. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick died of natural causes, medical examiner says: Sicknick, who fought rioters during the January 6 insurrection, died after having two strokes, DC's medical examiner found. Francisco J. Diaz, the medical examiner, told The Washington Post there is no evidence Sicknick died from an allergic reaction to protesters using bear spray on him. Diaz did find that the events of the riot "played a role" in Sicknick's death.

6. Rep. Maxine Waters denies encouraging violence as Republicans seek to expel her: The California Democrat denied that her comments to protesters in Minnesota over the weekend encouraged violence, telling The Grio she was "talking about confronting the justice system, confronting the policing that's going on." House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he'll move to censure Waters. Other Republicans want to see her expelled.

  • The judge in the Chauvin trial admonished Waters: Judge Peter Cahill denied a mistrial motion based on Waters' call for "confrontation" if Chauvin is found not guilty, but added: "I'll give it to you that Congresswoman Waters may have given you an appeal that could lead to this whole case being overturned."

7. The top things for your calendar, all times Eastern:

  • 10:00 a.m.: House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney, and other top Republican lawmakers hold a news conference

  • 10:30 a.m.: Four cabinet secretaries testify before Senate lawmakers about Biden's jobs plan

  • 11:15 a.m.: Biden and Harris meet with the leadership of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus

  • 12:30 p.m.: Jen Psaki holds the White House's daily news briefing

8. US weighing a cut in cigarettes' nicotine levels: The Biden administration is considering requiring all cigarettes sold in the US to contain only a nonaddictive level of nicotine, The Wall Street Journal reports. The FDA faces an April 29 deadline to disclose its intentions. Such a move could take years to implement and would likely face legal challenges.

9. The State Department to warn against travel to most of the world: The State Department announced that it would issue a "Level 4: Do not Travel" advisory, its highest warning, for 80% of countries due to the pandemic. The update asked US citizens to "reconsider all travel abroad."

Pennsylvania Coronavirus Vaccine
Mark Makela / Stringer

Every adult in the US is now eligible for a vaccine: The states of Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont on Monday changed their vaccine eligibility to include all adults - meaning all US states have now done so. Biden released a message encouraging Americans to get their shot.

10. NASA makes history on Mars: The Ingenuity helicopter flew on Mars for the first time early Monday, making it the first powered flight of an aircraft on another planet. NASA officials compared the achievement to the Wright brothers' momentous flights in 1903.

Watch Ingenuity's historic moment: "Goosebumps," Ingenuity project manager MiMi Aung said of the flight.

Mars Helicopter 2X1
NASA

One last thing.

Today's trivia question: Speaking of space, a piece of Sputnik - the Russian satellite that launched the space race - landed in a US state in 1962. Where did it land? Email your guess and a suggested question to me at bgriffiths@insider.com.

  • Yesterday's answer: President George H.W. Bush is the only president to have played college soccer. But Bush 41 quickly moved on from the beautiful game to baseball at Yale. He later played in the first College World Series.

Read the original article on Business Insider