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A handful of House Democrats are criticizing the new FCC Chairman's decision not to defend rate caps for phone calls placed within prison walls. Under the Obama administration, the FCC placed a rate cap on what phone companies are able to charge for inmate calls, which advocates have long argued are excessive. Now Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is declining to defend that order in court.

Reps. Bobby Rush, Elijah Cummings, G.K. Butterfield and Eleanor Holmes Norton said in a letter to the FCC's general counsel that "overpriced phone rates" deter communications with outside support systems that reduce recidivism.

"Chairman Pai's sudden reversal raises serious questions about why the FCC is now choosing to promote the financial interests of private sector telecommunications companies over those of inmates and their families."

Why it matters: It can cost more than you think for an inmate to place a phone call from prison. Depending on the state, per-minute rates and connection fees can add up for prisoners and their families, who petitioned the FCC for relief years ago. (It's a complicated issue, which The Verge lays out in detail.)

The backstory: The FCC in 2015 capped rates for inmate phone calls—an effort led by Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, now the lone Democrat on the panel. Phone companies serving prisons sued, challenging the FCC's authority to set in-state call rates. Pai, who as a commissioner also argued the agency overstepped, said the FCC wouldn't defend them in court. At oral arguments this week, the FCC declined to argue its case.

The FCC declined to comment.

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Why it matters: If there's a currency in this town, it's power, so we've asked several former Washington power brokers to share their best advice as a new administration and new Congress settle in.

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Pro-Trump holdouts in the House are forging ahead with an uphill campaign to oust Rep. Liz Cheney as head of the chamber's Republican caucus even though Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told them to back down.

Why it matters: What happens next will be a test of McCarthy's party control and the sincerity of his opposition to the movement. Cheney (R-Wyo.) is seen as a potential leadership rival to the California Republican.

Democrats aim to punish House GOP for Capitol riot

Speaker Nancy Pelosi passes through a newly installed metal detector at the House floor entrance Thursday. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

House Democrats plan to take advantage of corporate efforts to cut funding for Republicans who opposed certifying the 2020 election results, with a plan to target vulnerable members in the pivotal 2022 midterms for their role in the Jan. 6 violence.

Why it matters: It's unclear whether the Democrats' strategy will manifest itself in ads or earned media in the targeted races or just be a stunt to raise money for themselves. But the Capitol violence will be central to the party's messaging as it seeks to maintain its narrow majorities in Congress.

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