Ok, it's not just the Manchin bill. In addition to the West Virginia Democrat, seven other senators took a hand in hammering out the legislation: Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Angus King (I-ME), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Jon Tester (D-MT) and Raphael Warnock (D-GA). However, this is the bill that Manchin said he was willing to support, and this is the bill that he swore, up and down, he would be able to whip 10 GOP votes for. So, when the Senate holds its first procedural vote on the bill, as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced yesterday that it would do next week, he's the senator that everyone will be watching.
The bill includes a number of moderate protections of voting rights: Election Day would be declared a national holiday, all states would be required to offer same-day registration by 2024, and all states would have to offer at least 15 days of early voting. The progressives in the Democratic caucus (and some of the centrists) would like to do more, but they're willing to accept this as a starting point in making certain that all Americans be able to exercise their right to vote.
Of course, there is one small fly in the ointment. Or should we say "one small elephant"? And that is that the Republican Party, on the whole, definitely does not want to make certain that all Americans are able to exercise their right to vote. Party pooh-bahs have decided that they are best served by making voting more difficult, both in general, and among specific groups that just so happen to lean Democratic. Whether low turnout in general helps Republicans is open to discussion these days given the apparent realignment that is underway, but there's no question that stopping Democratic-leaning groups is helpful to the red team.
It is not surprising, then, that the bill reportedly does not have the 10 Republican votes it needs to overcome a filibuster. Schumer knows that full well, and he paid lip service to how much he hopes that his colleagues across the aisle see the light and jump on board. But he doesn't expect that to happen, and he likely doesn't want that to happen. He wants Manchin to try mightily to find the votes, and to fail. The lesson: "See, Joe? There's no way to get this done without changes to the filibuster."
Since it is just a procedural vote, the bill might get a half a dozen Republican votes. If so, that might allow the "this can be done in a bipartisan way" fantasy to live on a little longer. If it gets zero Republican votes, however, or just a couple—despite Manchin's best efforts to come up with a reasonable bill, and to lobby his Republican colleagues—then it will probably be time for him to lay his cards on the table.
That will be a very interesting moment once it arrives, because exactly what Manchin is thinking here remains something of a mystery. We find it very hard to believe that he does not understand the battle plan of today's Republican Party or that, for that matter, he's ignorant of his civil rights-era history, during which time anti-voting-rights Southern senators did absolutely everything they could to stop voting rights bills from becoming law, but their filibusters ran out of steam because they were actually forced to stand up and filibuster, and they could only keep it going for so long.
In the end, we can only see three possibilities: (1) we're wrong about him, and he really is being a Pollyanna here, and he's about to get a rude awakening; (2) we're right about him, and all he's looking for is plenty of political cover before agreeing to changes to the filibuster, or (3) we're right about him, and all he's looking for is the ability to say "Hey, I gave it my best shot!" before conceding that he doesn't really see voting rights as a top priority. Maybe we will find out which it is next week. (Z)
As long as we're on the subject of America's most important senator, it would appear that Joe Manchin has let slip one of the main things he wants in the reconciliation infrastructure bill, pork-wise. West Virginia, of course, is a state that hitched its economic wagon to fossil fuels, particularly coal. Those would be the same fossil fuels whose era is coming to a close.
Congressional Democrats, from the lefties to the centrists, would be happy to help with that, and to dump cash on the Mountain State in order to help them transition to an economy based on 21st century industries rather than 19th century industries, including the production of more environmentally friendly fuel sources. It would seem that the Senator doesn't quite want that; what he wants is money that would allow the coal and natural gas plants to keep doing what they're doing, but to significantly reduce the environmental impact. In other words, the funds would be spent on mitigation, rather than on transformation.
This is a somewhat short-sighted approach, and everyone knows it, presumably including the Senator. That said, change is hard, and if he thinks that he can't sell a more transformative approach to his fellow West Virginians, well, he's pretty much the foremost expert on the politics of West Virginia. In the end, it's still a positive change in terms of climate change, and if this is what it takes to get his vote, then the rest of the Democrats will surely concede the point.
Of course, that still leaves Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). While Manchin is willing to reveal what he wants, she continues to do the "strong, silent type" bit. At very least, if she's given an indication as to what concessions she wants, we haven't seen anything about it. In the end, if Chuck Schumer has 49 votes, he might decide to leave the carrots in his desk drawer, and head over to Sinema's office with a stick: "If you're the one who tanks our key legislative proposal, then I will see to it that you get the mother of all primary challenges from Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ). Oh, and while we're at it, I've changed your office assignment; instead of being inside the Philip A. Hart Senate Office Building, you'll now be located next to the Bob Packwood Senate Dumpster."
Incidentally, CNN has a new poll about the reconciliation bill. It is an excellent reminder of the old line: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." Looked at one way, the numbers seem to suggest that a centrist senator like Manchin or (apparently) Sinema is quite wise to insist on restraint. The headline on Mediaite's piece, for example, declares: "Two-Thirds of Independents Oppose Biden's $3.5 Trillion Spending Plan." Fox, The Hill, and a few other outlets had similar characterizations.
If you look more closely at the numbers, however, you learn that 36% of independents want a bigger bill, 32% want a smaller bill, and 32% want the bill torpedoed. Since respondents were not given the option of saying "I like the bill just the way it is," then you could easily rewrite the headline as "Two-Thirds of Independents Support Build Back Better Outlay." And what these numbers really speak to is that most "independents" are really just Democrats or Republicans. The poll also reports that most Democrats (75%) want more money, and that most Republicans (60%) want the bill killed.
In the end, the real lesson here may be how far the Overton window has moved. When the rather similar American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was passed, with a total price tag well south of $1 trillion, it was highly controversial, and savaged by many as a shockingly high outlay. Now, spending $1.5 trillion—close to double the price tag for the 2009 bill—is the "moderate" position. That could work to the Democrats' advantage, as they tell the base that this bill is a BIG DEAL, while at the same time pushing back against Republican attacks that they are wild and reckless socialist tax-and-spenders. (Z)
Blue ribbon panels are, in our view, the cousin to red tape. They are inefficient, and they make things needlessly complicated, and they often hinder progress rather than advancing it. For some leaders, that dynamic is a feature rather than a bug, since they can "do something" by appointing a panel, knowing full well that nothing meaningful will actually be accomplished. Whether that was Joe Biden's thinking when he tapped a group of 36 distinguished folks to look at the Supreme Court, only he knows. However, with the release of a "discussion draft" of its report yesterday, the panel definitely lived up to the general reputation that blue ribbon panels have.
First of all, why is a "discussion draft" needed? Is 36 cooks stirring the broth not enough? Is additional feedback really necessary? This seems like an excellent example of needless complications. In any event, the report is kind of wishy-washy, making extensive use of highly diplomatic language, and a lot of "on one hand...but on the other hand..." To the extent that the panel came up with clear conclusions, they appear to be: (1) the approval process for justices has really gotten messy, and (2) adding additional justices may not work out so well, but—maybe, possibly, sorta, and don't quote us on this—term limits would be something worth looking at.
In short, when the "final draft" is released, it will presumably go straight into the circular file. Republicans were always going to ignore the panel's findings, and Democrats are hardly going to be able to point to the document as strong support for...anything they want to do. Meanwhile, we assume that Joe Biden will drop the matter, since this very much seems like a hot potato that he just doesn't want to handle. Maybe he'll surprise us, but we doubt it. (Z)
There's a memorable exchange in the 1995 movie "The American President":
White House Chief of Staff A.J. MacInerney: Excuse me, Mr. President, I just got off the phone with the federal mediator in St. Louis. Management just walked away from the table; the baggage handlers, pilots and flight attendants are all getting set to walk out in forty-eight hours.
President Andrew Shepherd: You know, I studied under a Nobel Prize-winning economist, and you know what he taught me?
MacInerney: Never have an airline strike at Christmas?
The clip itself does not seem to be available online, but for some reason, the dramatic music that plays during that scene is easily found, so you can listen to it and get a sense of the gravity of the moment, if you wish.
That movie is a work of fiction, but that scene makes a very real point for politicians: Sit back and allow Christmas to be harmed at your peril. Maybe Joe Biden saw the film, or maybe he figured it out on his own, but either way, he and his administration have taken note of the supply-chain issues that are plaguing the country, and have realized they could make for something less than a Merry Christmas. The gifts, the traditional foods, even the Christmas trees—the things that many folks regard as essential parts of the holiday—may be available in quantities far short of what is demanded.
To that end, the White House is doing what it can to unsnarl as many logjams as is possible. The Port of Long Beach already switched to a 24/7 schedule three weeks ago, and the Port of Los Angeles will do the same beginning this week. Those are the two most common ports of entry for goods coming from Asia, and in L.A. there is currently a line of almost 100 container ships waiting to put into port and unload. FedEx, UPS, Walmart, Samsung, Target and Home Depot will also start scheduling their drivers 24/7, and the administration hopes that other retail and long-haul trucking firms will follow suit. It is also possible that the military will be asked to help out, and/or that government-owned land will be temporarily made available for shippers to unload their cargoes.
There is only so much the government can do, of course, since this is primarily the province of the private sector. However, the White House really doesn't want people to be singing "Blue Christmas" when the season rolls around. At the same time, Joe Biden may try to take eggs and make eggnog, pointing out that this mess is the kind of thing that the infrastructure bills will help to alleviate. (Z)
Steve Bannon has officially ignored the subpoena he was served, and the 1/6 Committee is now at work on the process of holding him in contempt of Congress. The Committee will vote on a report, and a resolution, on Tuesday of next week. Then, the whole House will likely take a vote, probably late next week. As to the other three subpoena recipients, Mark Meadows and Kash Patel are cooperating enough that the Committee is not yet willing to bring the hammer, while Dan Scavino apparently got his subpoena too recently (this past weekend) to be in contempt, as yet.
Ultimately, that isn't that interesting, since it's just one step in a multi-step process, and far and away the most interesting and important step comes when AG Merrick Garland decides what he wants to do. However, mentioning the Bannon news also allows us to mention this item from Slate, which reminds us that Donald Trump may very well be guilty of obstruction of justice, and could still be prosecuted for that. That has receded from people's memory, given the focus on (1) Georgia, (2) New York, and (3) the insurrection. However, the statute of limitations has not run yet, and there's a fair case to be made that the former president reset the clock when he publicly ordered Bannon, et al. to ignore the 1/6 Committee's subpoenas. That would be obstruction on a different matter (the insurrection, as opposed to the Russia investigation), but it's possible obstruction nonetheless. In any event, Garland's response to the 1/6 Commission's referral of Steve Bannon to the DoJ may give us a sense of whether or not he will consider taking a cue from Robert Mueller, and throwing the book at Trump. (Z)
There was a fair bit of news in various 2022 races across the country. To keep it manageable, we'll do governors' races today, and we'll do some other offices next week:
That's the news on the gubernatorial front. Interesting developments in several U.S. Senate and U.S. House races will be discussed next week. (Z)
We were planning a third item on Native Americans and genocide today, and there is no way you can run something like that right next to "This Week in Schadenfreude." It would be in very poor taste. So, we were going to suspend this feature for a week. However, we really want to make sure the genocide piece is just right, and there was also some potentially relevant news yesterday that we might want to work in. So, we'll push it to Tuesday. Your patience is much appreciated.
Anyhow, Donald Trump is, of course, a liar. If he were Pinocchio, his nose would make General Sherman look petite. And that has encouraged his acolytes, who probably weren't the most honest people in the first place, to become inveterate liars. As with the former president, the more they hunger for attention, the bigger and bolder the lies.
Among the starved-for-attention Trumpers is Kim Klacik (R), who last year launched a quixotic campaign for MD-07, a House seat that is D+27. She didn't really expect to win, but she thought that tilting at a few windmills would facilitate some grift, and would let her get some attention, and would launch her on a career as a right-wing media darling. Specifically, she wants to follow the Candace Owens blueprint: Be the Black woman that gets invited to appear on Fox to "prove" that Republican policies are wildly popular among members of the Black community.
Klacik's ambitions have gone largely unfulfilled, and so she is willing to say just about anything on social media, truth be damned, in an effort to get more screen time on "Hannity" or "The Ingraham Angle." And so it is that she posted a snotty remark on Twitter: "A look at #BuildBackBetter," accompanied by this picture:
The implication, of course, is that she visited a store and found this scene. Even if she had, it would be dishonest to blame it on the current administration, since supply-chain issues, as we note above, are the responsibility of the private sector. Further, she clearly did not see this in person, nor does it have anything to do with BuildBackBetter, or anything else in the United States. As the careful reader will notice, the prices on the shelves are listed in pounds, not dollars. If she'd tweeted "A look at #Brexit," then ok, maybe. But if she was going to steal a picture from Google images to make an underhanded political point, she really ought to have looked more carefully. If you search that site for "empty shelves," this image is the sixth result that pops up:
If Klacik had looked closely at the prices in the image, she might have spared herself some embarrassment (she eventually deleted the tweet). Alternatively, as you can see, she might also have taken note of the fact that the picture was first published in the British newspaper The Guardian.
Anyhow, when a shameless liar executes a lie so badly that even an 8-year-old could fact-check it? That's occasion for a little schadenfreude. (Z)