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Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Members of Congress from both parties are trying to turn the massive federal employee pension fund into a tool for their political ends, using its huge financial sway to support or oppose certain industries.

Why it matters: The half-trillion dollar Thrift Savings Plan is the largest defined-contribution retirement plan in the world. But those charged with overseeing it say politicizing any of its investment decisions risks its overall financial health.

  • Democrats want to use it to go after fossil fuel companies. Republicans want to bar Chinese-owned firms getting any money.
  • The Democratic chairman of the Senate committee overseeing the fund — and which will consider President Biden's new nominees to the board running it — feels any effort to use the TSP to advance policy goals is misguided, an aide tells Axios.

What's happening: Biden last week nominated four new members of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which oversees the Thrift Savings Plan.

  • Progressives are pushing for Biden's nominees to divest the fund's assets from fossil fuel companies. The Revolving Door Project, a progressive good-government group, called on one of the nominees to "rise to the occasion" and lead that effort.
  • Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) requested a study this year on the feasibility of that fossil fuel divestment. Hassan is a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, which will consider Biden's new nominees.
  • Merkley subsequently introduced legislation pushing divestment. He told The Daily Poster last week he has pressed the Biden administration “to ensure that divestment is a priority for appointees to the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board."

What they're saying: HSGAC Chairman Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) is cool on investment decisions that aren't financially rooted.

  • "Sen. Peters does not think that federal employees’ retirement funds should be used as a political football," a committee aide told Axios.
  • "Forcing FRTIB to make investment decisions based on political whims could end up harming the federal government’s competitiveness as an employer at a time when we need to be attracting the most talented individuals in fields like cybersecurity and artificial intelligence."

It's not just Democrats trying to leverage the massive fund.

  • Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) introduced legislation in May that would codify a Trump administration policy temporarily blocking the fund from investing in Chinese-owned companies.
  • A previous version of the legislation was introduced last Congress by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). A cosponsor, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), also sits on the HSGAC.
  • Republicans have eyed similar measures at the state level, where a group of GOP state treasurers recently threatened to yank state funds from banks that pull back lending and investment from fossil fuel firms.

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Oct 4, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Democrats sense now or never moment on climate legislation

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Democrats and advocates pushing for big climate investments in reconciliation legislation will likely need to scale down their ambitions even as they emphasize the global stakes of the fluid Capitol Hill talks.

The big picture: Democrats and the White House face the tricky task of crafting a social spending and clean energy plan that will be significantly smaller than progressives have envisioned.

6 mins ago - World

U.S. envoy to visit Sudan as "most dangerous" crisis intensifies

The sit-in in Khartoum. Photo: Mahmoud Hjaj/Anadolu Agency via Getty

U.S. envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman will visit Khartoum this week amid what Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has called the “worst and most dangerous" crisis of Sudan’s transition to democracy, two sources with direct knowledge tell Axios.

Driving the news: Roughly 2,000-3,000 people had joined a sit-in in Khartoum as of this afternoon, per Reuters, after protesters massed over the weekend to call on the military to bring down the government. The protests came just four weeks after a failed military coup.

Trump sues National Archives, Jan. 6 committee to block records request

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Trump filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to block the National Archives from releasing White House records to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, citing executive privilege.

Why it matters: It's the latest escalation in Trump's campaign to disrupt the committee's sweeping probe into the circumstances surrounding Jan. 6, including his actions and communications leading up to the Capitol attack.

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