Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Supremely Undemocratic

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I just read a most frightening book: The Agenda: How a Republican Supreme Court is Reshaping America, by Ian Millhiser, a senior correspondent for Vox. Frightening because the Supreme Court, unelected and not answerable to the public due to the life tenure of judges, is reshaping American politics and society in an undemocratic direction not favored by a majority of voters.

The Supreme Court’s recent activism fills a void left by partisan gridlock in Washington. Congress has passed little substantial legislation in the last decade. This may be changing with Democrats in control of Congress and the presidency, but unless Democrats are willing to eliminate the filibuster in the Senate, President Joe Biden’s ambitious plans probably will come to naught. Besides, the rightwing tilt of the nation’s high court may well result in the Supreme Court overturning much of whatever legislation Democrats succeed in passing.

While Congress dithered, a conservative Supreme Court was busy, dismantling campaign finance laws, eroding voter protection legislation, weakening Obamacare, undermining the separation of church and state, removing safeguards against sexual and racial harassment, diminishing rules shielding the environment from polluters, and granting employers increased power over hours, wages, and the safety of workers.  Conservatives once decried “judicial activism,” but now that Republicans represent a minority of the nation, the courts have become the last bastion of conservative ideology. Republicans under GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell have been ruthless in insuring Republican domination of the nation’s courts. 

The reshaping of American law by the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts will continue in the term starting this October, with the high court poised to overturn abortion protections and end affirmative action in higher education. In addition, the court will hear a lawsuit backed by the National Rifle Association that asserts the constitutional right to carry a weapon outside the home. The case challenges a century-old New York law that requires citizens demonstrate a legitimate self-defense need in order to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon. 

All this is being done by an undemocratic branch of the United States government. The Supreme Court has always been far removed from popular will. The justices, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, hold lifetime jobs and short of some egregious actions warranting impeachment and conviction, they cannot be removed from office. 

Millhiser describes how the Supreme Court has eviscerated voting rights protections in the last decade and predicts further encroachment on equal access to the ballot. He notes that the Supreme Court can weaken democracy because the American constitutional system is, itself, not democratic since not all votes are equal. Donald Trump was elected president in 2016 even though his opponent received three million more votes. While the numbers fluctuate with each election, Republican senators represent 40 million or so fewer people than Democratic senators because conservative red states like Wyoming have the same number of senators as liberal blue state California, even though the latter has a population nearly 70 times greater.

To put it starkly, the last three justices confirmed to the court — Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett — were appointed by a president who lost the popular vote and confirmed by senators who represent less than half the country. These three justices — all relatively young — have tipped a conservative-leaning court to the far right. The result: An undemocratic cohort of justices is weakening American democracy. 

Much ink has been spilled describing the judicial attack on voting rights. But, as noted above, it is not the only area in which the Roberts-led Supreme Court is removing democratic protections. Of particular note is the attack by the court — led by Neil Gorsuch — on what is often referred to as the “administrative state.”

Governing a modern industrial and technological society is complex. Members of Congress cannot and do not know all the details required in, say, protecting the environment or regulating businesses. All Congress can do — and should do — is pass the broad outlines of policy, such as establishing the limits of permissible carbon emissions into the environment. When Congress acts in such a manner, it considers the best technology available at the time the law is enacted. But, technology changes, so to keep up with these changes, Congress routinely delegates to the various departments and agencies of the executive branch the power to establish rules. And, these departments and agencies may change the rules as needed given technological improvements and societal needs. 

Until recently, the Supreme Court has ruled in a number of cases that it is best to allow the executive agencies to flesh out ambiguities in law and to write rules to enforce congressionally passed laws. Gorsuch disagrees, arguing that it is better to give judges, who he says are “independent” of popular whim, this power. Gorsuch would place the rule-writing power, as Millhiser writes, “in the hands of the closest thing the United States has to a medieval nobility — unelected judges who serve for life.”

Gorsuch argues that judges — unlike federal regulators who are answerable to an elected president — are above politics. The justice conveniently forgets that he has his current job because Senate Republicans used raw political power to keep President Barack Obama’s appointee — Merrick Garland — off the bench to put instead a conservative — Gorsuch — on it. Republican Senators knew full well that a Republican judge like Gorsuch is far more likely to issue a conservative judicial decision than a Democratic judge.

Millhiser avoids discussing the remedies for curbing the undemocratic tendencies of an undemocratic institution bent on abrogating democratic rights, but his book provides fodder for calls in recent years to reform the court. Among the suggestions for change are increasing the number of justices (“court-packing”), limiting the tenure of justices, allowing every president to appoint two new justices, and creating a system to select justices on a bipartisan basis.

Whatever the remedy or remedies, the need to act is urgent to insure the continuation of American democracy, which is threatened by the conservative justices who dominate the Supreme Court.

Posted August 31, 2021

The Shamelessness of Mitch McConnell

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell does not care about much in politics — except the exercise of power for its own sake. Former President Barack Obama recalls in his memoir that McConnell told then Vice President Joe Biden, when discussing the policy merits of a bill, “You must be under the mistaken impression that I care.” Legislating for the public good has never been a goal of the Kentucky senator. 

But, McConnell does care about the courts, seeing the federal bench as a tool to entrench Republican dominance of one branch of government, at least, for decades. He worked with former President Donald Trump to pack the courts. He has used every trick in his legislative toolbox to insure conservative majorities in the court system. When he could, McConnell choked off Obama’s nominees to district and appellate courts and rammed through Trump’s. He notoriously denied Obama’s last nominee to the Supreme Court a hearing, then forced through Trump’s final nominee only days before the 2020 presidential election. 

In his single-minded pursuit of judicial power, McConnell has made up the rules on the fly on who gets to appoint whom and who approves which nominee, finding a justification — no matter how absurd — to fit every situation. When conservative hero Justice Antonin Scalia died, McConnell refused to consider Merrick Garland as the replacement, saying the Senate should not vote on a Supreme Court nominee in an election year. Never mind that Scalia died in February 2016 and Obama named Garland in March. Never mind that the Senate previously approved justices in an election year.

Four years later, McConnell had to come up with a codicil to the rule about not approving a justice in an election year. When Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in September 2020, Trump named Amy Coney Barrett, whose nomination McConnell ushered through the Senate on October 26. What about the 2016 rule? Oh, McConnell told us in 2020, he only meant the Garland rule to apply when the president and the Senate majority are from different parties. When the president and the Senate are from the same party, then the rule is different and the Senate can approve the nominee up to election day. McConnell would even argue, I suppose, up to the inauguration of the next president. 

Now, the codicil has its own codicil! McConnell suggests that if Republicans regain control of the Senate in 2022 and a vacancy to the high court occurs in 2023, he might block a nomination made by President Biden. When conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt asked McConnell about this scenario, the senator replied, “We’d have to wait and see what happens.” That is McConnell-speak for the following: If my majority in the Senate is strong enough to withstand a defection or two from moderates in my caucus, I will block a Biden-named justice. Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin of Illinois summed up McConnell’s hypocrisy: “Are you surprised? I mean he would change the rules a third time if he could to make sure that they get the choice on the next Supreme Court justice.” Durbin added, “He’s not much for precedent and tradition when it doesn’t serve him politically.”

McConnell’s shenanigans are patently absurd! The Constitution says the president has the power to nominate judges to the Supreme Court with the “Advice and Consent of the Senate.” That is it! Nothing more. It takes a tortured reading of our founding document to turn “Advice and Consent” into blocking presidential nominees and packing the courts. But, McConnell is a master at tortured readings. It is also extraordinarily hypocritical of a leader of the party that professes — at least, it once did profess — fealty to a strict constructionist interpretation of the Constitution. Moreover, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, in the Constitution about political parties. Indeed, the Framers of the Constitution thought parties had no place in a republic. James Madison, revered as the Father of the Constitution, wrote in Federalist 10 that a “well-constructed Union” would “break and control the violence of faction (the 18th century term for party).”

McConnell’s rationales may constitute shenanigans, but they are explicable shenanigans. As much as McConnell cares about the courts, he cares more about being majority leader. He knows that Republicans are in danger of being frozen out of power in the coming years as the Republican base of older white men shrinks as a percentage of the population. The looming electoral catastrophe facing Republicans is a spur to pack the courts now. It is also a spur to use the courts as a political weapon to mobilize conservative voters. McConnell knows that the only way for Republicans to regain control of the Senate is to encourage conservatives to vote in the 2022 midterms. One issue that motivates many Republican voters is control of the courts, which is why McConnell now is threatening to deny a president from the opposing party any chance to name a justice to the Supreme Court.

This may be absurd and not what the Founders intended, but it is hardball politics, and Democrats must also play hardball to stay in the game. For starters, Democrats must persuade the 82-year-old Justice Stephen Breyer to retire now so Biden can name his replacement while Democrats have control of the Senate. No justice wants his or her retirement to appear politically motivated, but McConnell has turned Senate judicial approval into a political matter, so it is too late for Breyer to be squeamish about leaving. He must not make the same mistake Ruth Bader Ginsburg made in sticking around as a justice until her death. Ginsburg deservedly is a liberal icon, but she erred by not retiring when Obama could have named her successor.

Democrats should also consider increasing the number of justices on the Supreme Court to equalize the court’s ideological makeup. Such a move has the odious repute of “court-packing,” but the Constitution is silent on the number of justices on the high court, and in the early years of the Republic the number fluctuated. More importantly, McConnell’s high-handed, extra-Constitutional manipulation of the constitutional requirement that the Senate “Advice and Consent” has resulted in his packing the court, giving Democrats every justification to act.

If raising the number of justices proves unpalatable, Democrats can move to reform the Supreme Court. Reform could adjust the personnel of the court by shortening their terms of office through term limits or granting every president the power to appoint two new justices regardless of how many justices wind up serving at any given time. Other proposals include devising a process to select justices on a bipartisan basis. 

None of this would be easy, particularly proposals suggesting bipartisan action. But, Democrats must act. The nation is becoming more progressive. President Biden has an ambitious program that may or may not get through Congress. But, regardless of whether Biden or some future progressive president — backed by overwhelming majorities in Congress — gets to enact liberal policies, Democrats must insure that those policies are not then nullified by Mitch McConnell’s shameless legacy of a conservative packed court.

Posted June 18, 2021

Democrats at a Crossroad

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This is crunch time for Democrats. The party’s congressional leaders must make several crucial decisions in the next few weeks, deciding what parts of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda to push, how to do so (with or without Republican support), and how to placate the disparate wings of their own party.

Three immediate questions confront Democrats. First, how long to continue discussions with Republicans regarding bipartisan support for an infrastructure bill? Second, how fast to move, given the legislative calendar? Third, what to do about the Senator Joe Manchin problem?

The president desires — almost desperately — bipartisan cooperation with Republicans. No one should find this surprising, given Joe Biden’s background. He spent decades in the Senate, at a time — at least in his early years as a senator — when comity ruled. Biden witnessed and participated in forging numerous compromises with members across the aisle. As President Barack Obama’s vice president, Biden drew on his past as a dealmaker in the Senate to persuade a few Republican senators to support Obama’s economic stimulus bill, making its passage bipartisan.

No doubt, Biden entered talks on an infrastructure package with West Virginia Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito sincerely hoping to reach an agreement. But, those talks broke down this week as the two sides remain hundreds of billions of dollars apart and disagree over how to pay for infrastructure improvements. If Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on an infrastructure plan — given that every senator or representative should want a new bridge or road in his or her district — then the prospects of cooperation on anything else approach zero.

Gaining Republican support for anything proposed by Democrats was always a long shot for Biden. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell telegraphed early his intention to continue his sordid career as the king of obstruction. “One hundred percent of my focus is on stopping this new administration,” the Kentuckian said. Another indication that bipartisanship is chimerical came when Republicans in the Senate refused to end a filibuster against creating a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection. If Republicans cannot agree with Democrats to investigate a riotous mob that threatened their own safety, then, once again, what in the world would they ever back?

Infrastructure talks continue among a group of so-called moderate senators from both parties, but prospects for success remain dim. Despite those talks, it is easy to conclude that Republicans are stringing discussions along, delaying votes for as long as possible. At some point, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer must decide when to pull the plug and invoke the parliamentary maneuver known as reconciliation to get something passed by the Senate. What would be in a bill passed only with Democratic votes depends on what conservatives in the party are willing to support.

The legislative calendar dictates the need for Democrats to move quickly. It is less than six months into the Biden administration, but time is short. So far, Biden can point to two major successes: The distribution of the vaccine, allowing the nation to return to some semblance of normal (though the decline in the number of shots per day threatens the recovery), and the passage of his stimulus package, which appears to have bolstered the economy. But, the rest of important parts of Biden’s plan are either stalled in the legislative hopper or unlikely to receive even united Democratic support.

Congress works frustratingly slowly. Haste is not likely in the foreseeable future, as it is already the second week of June, with Congress slated to take a nearly two weeks break around July 4 and then a month-long recess in August. The longer Republicans can delay legislation, the more difficult it will be to pass anything. By late summer and early fall, Congress will be bogged down in talks over raising the debt ceiling, always a messy process. In any event, Democrats must pass substantive legislation this year, because 2022 is an election year, which will make legislating even more difficult, if not impossible.

Then, there is the Joe Manchin problem. The West Virginian is the 50th, and arguably most conservative, member of the Democratic caucus, so keeping him happy is imperative. Manchin represents a conservative state, and he must be attuned to the wishes of his constituents. And, while I believe he is an impediment to progress, it is also unfair to blame him entirely for Democratic woes. There are many other Democratic moderates in both chambers of Congress who have problems with parts of the Biden agenda, including the expansive voting rights law and the cost of much of what has been proposed. In the Senate, in addition to those concerns, there is reluctance to end the filibuster.

The victory this week of former governor Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia gubernatorial primary heightens the previous trend in which Democratic primary voters have chosen moderates over progressives. The failure of progressives to win more elections only eases the pressure on moderates in Congress to support liberal measures. In turn, this easing of pressure on moderates increases the pressure on progressives to persuade their more conservative colleagues not only of the wisdom to go big, as it were, but of the need, in the Senate, to end the filibuster to allow for straight majority passage of the Democratic agenda.

Manchin professes to seek bipartisanship. He is not likely to get it. He also says he will not vote for the omnibus “For the People Act,” but will support reenactment of the 1965 voting rights law, which he thinks will get bipartisan support. But, McConnell recently declared his opposition to that measure, popularly named after the late Representative John Lewis, making it very unlikely that 10 Republican senators would vote to end a filibuster. At what point, does Manchin realize bipartisanship is a pipe dream?

All of this leaves Democrats at a crossroad. They must act soon to secure important legislation, including bills on infrastructure, protecting voting rights, addressing climate change, family security, and more, or risk going to the voters in the 2022 midterms having failed to enact most of their agenda. Perhaps, running against Republican obstruction might yield surprising victories in those elections, but that is a high-risk gamble, given Republican built-in electoral advantages, including gerrymandering, controlling redistricting in important states, and the long list of state voter suppression laws.

Democrats must act, and act soon, or risk wasting an important historical moment.

Posted June 11, 2021

 

 

Obstruction, Part Deux

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There are many signs these days of the intellectual bankruptcy of the Republican Party. One of the most striking is the pitiful attempt by Republican leaders to delegitimize President Joe Biden by claiming he is not in charge of his own administration. Biden is, so the line goes, old and fumbling, a figurehead for others, particularly Vice President Kamala Harris, who push him to extremist positions, or manipulated by his White House staff.

In a lame attempt to make this point, Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn issued a string of tweets last month about Biden’s alleged lack of a media presence. Citing a Politico article entitled “The Biden White House media doctrine: Less can be more,” Cornyn wondered if the article “[i]nvites the question: is he really in charge?” Actually, the article did not invite that question at all. Politico simply observed that the current president’s tweets are few, his public comments scripted, and he limits his contacts with the press. And, as one White House official told Politico, the president and his communications staff are happy to have other people push Biden’s policy agenda. “We use the Cabinet, they’re experts in their field,” said deputy communications director Kate Berner. 

Questioning Biden’s media reticence is a funny, weird, and hypocritical critique by Cornyn since Republicans in the House and Senate often scurried from reporters’ probing questions seeking a comment about the latest embarrassing, inflammatory, ignorant, and/or bigoted tweet from former president Donald Trump. Who can forget those TV images of Republican lawmakers fast-walking past reporters’ microphones to avoid commenting? As for Biden having limited contacts with the media, it is true his media availability is significantly less than Trump’s. The “former guy” was a media hog, never shying away from a camera. But, those were often as embarrassing and ill-informed as his tweets. Remember his commandeering the daily press briefings in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic when, among other things, he suggested injecting bleach into bodies?

Republicans also have attacked Biden for an alleged lack of energy. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy disparaged Biden for having to sleep “five hours a night” and for not having “the energy of Donald Trump.” No one outside the Biden family knows — at least, I do not — how many hours the president sleeps, and McCarthy ought to know that adults usually require seven to nine hours of sleep a night. More importantly, it is a very strange accusation to compare Biden’s work ethic to Trump’s. The former president’s aversion to hard work was legendary. He rarely showed up to assume his daily tasks until 11 in the morning, refused intelligence briefings, and he spent hours every day watching television (when he was not playing golf).

Much of the Republicans political maneuvering and commentary would be silly if it were not part of a larger strategy aimed at derailing Biden’s bold agenda to bring American into the 21st century by revamping the nation’s infrastructure and strengthening its social safety net in an attempt to catch up to the rest of the industrialized and democratic world. Accordingly, Republican tactics center on portraying Biden as too weak and ineffectual to be an effective interlocutor. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested in February — during discussions surrounding passage of the COVID-19 relief bill — that the president was hamstrung by his staff from reaching a bipartisan deal. “Our members who were in the meeting felt that the president seemed more interested in [bipartisanship] than his staff did,” McConnell said. West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito said about the president, “He seemed more willing than his staff to negotiate.” Longtime McConnell adviser Josh Holmes suggested that White House “staff treats Biden as though he’s an invalid who just wanders into a meeting and knows not what he speaks.” It is a wily ploy by Republicans to suggest that the only reason there is no bipartisanship is because Biden is not in control of his own administration. “Gee,” the implication is, “we’d love to reach a deal, but we can’t figure out who’s in charge over there.”

Actually, it is the other way around. Republicans find it useful to belittle Biden because they do not wish to reach any deals with him. Bereft of ideas and policies, McConnell and his cohorts want to insure that Biden does not receive credit for any successes from his popular policies. When asked if he would do anything to support Representative Liz Cheney for calling out Trump’s “Big Lie,” McConnell said his only goal was to stymie Biden. “One-hundred percent of my focus is on stopping this new administration,” said the GOP’s leading obstructionist. 

McConnell is an experienced hand at being Senator No. In obstruction, part un, he vowed to make Barack Obama a one-term president, and, though he failed to do so, the Kentuckian obstructed Obama at every opportunity, including preventing the then-president from exercising his constitutionally mandated duty to appoint a Supreme Court justice. McConnell has never been known to be much interested in policy. The only two things he seems to care about is stacking the federal judiciary with conservative justices and insuring the spigot remains open for big money to flow into Republican coffers. A more cynical pol would be hard to find.

The senator’s cynicism has been on full display in the opening months of the Biden presidency. McConnell opposes creating a commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection because an inquiry could hurt the Republican Party’s midterm election message. He did not explain the contents of that message, leaving the rest of us to wonder if it includes supporting White supremacy, insurrection, and treason. The United States suffered its worst treasonous uprising since the Civil War and Senator McConnell willingly places party before country! Apparently, McConnell forgot that he held Trump “practically and morally responsible” for the insurrection in a speech on the Senate floor following the former president’s second impeachment trial. 

So far, Biden is correct to ignore Republican insults aimed at him personally. But, when those insults indicate a larger Republican strategy with the goal of preventing passage of all of the president’s agenda, Biden needs to say, “Enough is enough! I’m going to act without their cooperation if they continue to obstruct.” Biden’s action must include signaling Senate Democrats that he supports the end of the filibuster so that a minority of a minority can no longer impede passage of popular and much-needed legislation.

Posted May 28, 2021

Learning From the Past

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One of the presumed advantages of maturity — and Joe Biden is a very mature president — is accumulated wisdom gathered through the span of a long life. Biden is not only our oldest president; he has also spent virtually his entire adult life in national politics. He has seen the system up close and surely knows what works and what does not.

Biden witnessed the last two Democratic presidents’ excessive timidity in approaching the significant issues of the day. Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama suffered huge midterm defeats during their first terms because they failed to revive sluggish economies. Neither of Biden’s Democratic predecessors offered bold economic plans and both were undone, in part, by futile stabs at bipartisanship. Obama, in particular, constantly tried to pry a few Republicans from the party’s obstructionist stance, tailoring his programs and nominations — the stimulus package, healthcare reform, the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court — to appeal to moderates within the GOP. It never worked. 

Clearly, Biden learned a valuable lesson: Go bold and go over the heads of Republican leaders to appeal to Republican voters. He secured passage of a massive $1.9 trillion stimulus package early in his term. No Republicans in Congress voted for it. Biden did not wait — as Obama did — for Republicans to offer support. Instead, the new president took advantage of slim Democratic majorities in Congress to push through the rescue bill on a straight party vote. The strategy is working: Poll after poll show most Americans — including a significant percentage of Republican voters — support the relief measure. 

As Biden prepares to address Congress Wednesday evening — marking his first 100 days in the presidency — he continues to offer bold initiatives. He has proposed a multi-trillion dollar infrastructure bill, which includes, in addition to the traditional building and repairing of roads and bridges, a large jobs component, broadband coverage for the entire nation, and development of alternative energy sources to combat climate change. Other audacious plans — voting reform, an immigration overhaul, police reform, and an attack on income inequality, among others — likely will come soon.

Not much in Biden’s past suggested he would be a president with such radical proclivities. But, Biden evidently is a student of history, so he must know that high poll numbers, which he currently enjoys, can be fleeting. He must understand the fates of Clinton and Obama, as well as the lessons from the first term of one of America’s greatest presidents: Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Confronted by the worst economic crisis in U.S. history, Roosevelt used his first 100 days in office to calm the financial panic and begin rolling out the programs that comprised the New Deal. Fifteen major pieces of legislation were introduced during those first 100 days. Roosevelt’s frenetic attack on the Great Depression gave the concept of “the first 100 days” meaning, and ever since, presidents have been graded, perhaps unfairly, on their accomplishments during the early days and weeks of their terms. 

This analysis is not meant to suggest that Biden faces an existential crisis as great as the Great Depression, though the threat from COVID-19 cannot be underestimated nor can the successes of the new administration in getting vaccines distributed and into the arms of millions of Americans be overly praised. But where Roosevelt faced one extremely daunting crisis, Biden faces a multitude: The pandemic and the ensuing economic downturn, climate change, immigration, income and racial inequality, abuse of power by police, and Republican attacks on democracy (voting rights and the right to protest).The list is so extensive as to make one wonder why anyone wants to be president!

Like Roosevelt, Biden is not wasting his current popularity nor public support for many of his proposals. Of course, Biden would like Republican votes in Congress for some of his proposals, but he also knows, as we all do, that the current Republican Party — in the throes of abject submission to former president Donald Trump and led in Congress by the obstructionist Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the subservient House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — is committed to opposing anything he presents.

More important in Biden’s calculations are Republican voters. He is not likely to peel away many Trump loyalists — hard right conservatives convinced Trump won the November election as well as gun rights advocates, racists and xenophobes, and cultural warriors. But, he is calculating that populist proposals — economic populism as opposed to the nationalist and racist populism of Trump and the Republican Party —  will garner support from Republican voters.

Biden is betting that the $1400 checks people received, an improving economy putting people back to work and raising wages, tax increases on the wealthy and big corporations, a jobs program in the infrastructure package, broadband expansion to rural areas, and other programs that benefit all voters will win him bipartisan support. 

So expect to hear from a bold Joe Biden Wednesday night, a president who knows surely that the only way to win bipartisan backing and break gridlock in Washington is to deliver for all Americans.

Posted April 27, 2021

Stark Differences

The notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our [the federal government’s] stockpile, it’s not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they then use. — Jared Kushner, former president Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, April 2, 2020, in reference to medical equipment to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

We need to remember, the government isn’t some foreign force in a distant capital. No, it’s us, all of us, we the people. — President Joe Biden, March 11, 2021.

Two stark contrasts: The Republican Party’s vision of government as some alien presence, disconnected from the everyday lives of the people who live under it; and, the Democratic Party’s belief that, in our democratic republic, government is by us for our benefit. “We the people,” as the Constitution’s preamble puts it and Biden affirmed, is the Democratic ideology; “us” against “them,” the Republican creed.

This is not new. These two conflicting interpretations of the relationship of the governing to the governed have defined American political parties from the beginning. The roles have shifted through history, with the Democratic Party now championing government as a tool for the betterment of society through creation of the social safety net and expansion of democratic practices. The Republican Party’s ideology is best summed up in President Ronald Reagan’s favorite aphorism, uttered in his first Inaugural Address, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

The differences between the two parties center on competing visions of the role of government. But, in the past, both parties accepted the basic framework of American democracy: Devotion to the Constitution, free and fair elections — the results or which were honored by both victor and loser — and the rule of law. And, both parties were coalitions of differing interest and ideological groups that made compromise possible.

Now, in our highly polarized political process, the two parties consist of tribes that no longer talk to each other, much less work together for the common good. The Democratic Party has moved to the left, embracing an active government in which healthcare is a guaranteed right, the state promises a minimum standard of living for everyone, and everyone participates in choosing the nation’s leaders.

The Republican Party has not only become more conservative, but it has moved to darker places on the political spectrum, becoming an authoritarian party that shares common goals and methods with Poland’s Law and Justice Party and Hungary’s Fidesz Party, both of which have subverted the hopes of democratic rule unleashed after the fall of Communism late in the last century. A recently declassified report from the director of national intelligence asserts that the Republican Party, in collusion with the Trump White House and the party’s propaganda organs (for that is what Fox News, Breitbart, and One America News are), cooperated with a Russian campaign to keep Trump in the presidency by undermining the campaign of now-president Joe Biden.  

The report says the Russian government worked to weaken “public confidence in the electoral process.” Trump used the same strategy with his constant litany before Election Day of the dangers of absentee voting and his refusal to accept the results of the election after November 3. Trump’s intransigence convinced his supporters that Biden is not the legitimately elected president, despite all evidence to the contrary. One of the surest roads to autocracy is fomenting a belief that the electoral process cannot be trusted.

Trump has not given up. Just this week, he complained that “our Supreme Court and our courts didn’t have the courage to overturn elections.” In this blatantly anti-democratic rhetoric, the former president no longer simply asserts that the other side cheated; he now suggests that results he does not like should be ignored. It is a concept that spurred the insurrection at the Capitol in January and encouraged two-thirds of congressional Republicans to vote to throw out duly certified electoral votes. A majority of Republicans — along with Trump — were willing to sacrifice democracy to maintain political power. That is the mindset of autocrats.

Contrast the increasingly expansive and democratic vision of the Biden administration, which differs strikingly not only from modern Republican ideology but also recent Democratic thought. After the successes of the New Deal of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Great Society of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, Democrats moved away from embracing activist government. Note their middle-of-the-road rhetoric:

Jimmy Carter: “Government cannot solve our problems, it can’t set our goals, it cannot define our vision.” 

Bill Clinton: “The era of big government is over.” 

Barack Obama: “It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government.” 

President Biden, instead, is harking back to the philosophy of the New Deal and the Great Society, attacking serious problems — such as environmental degradation, immigration reform, the obscene income inequality plaguing the nation, and attacks on democratic processes — with bold programs. The first piece of Biden-inspired legislation to pass Congress was the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion program to ramp up vaccine distribution, help Americans suffering economically during the pandemic, and begin an attack on poverty through an expanded child tax credit. 

Nothing is more critical for the success of the Biden program than passage of two laws to guarantee access to the ballot. Central to the Republican march to an authoritarian government is the party’s attempts to destroy democracy — first in its refusal to accept the results of the 2020 election, then in passage of laws in many states restricting the right to vote.

The battle over voting rights is central to the questions posed by the two competing visions expressed by Democrats and Republicans. Will the United States remain a democracy that  cares for the well-being of its citizens and continually expands democratic processes? Or, will the United States follow the lead of rightward drifting countries in Europe and become an undemocratic society whose leaders are not freely chosen by all voters and cling to power for its own sake?

Posted March 19, 2021

The Relief Package is a Big Deal

If former Vice President Joe Biden thought the signing of the Affordable Care Act was “a big fucking deal,” what expletive describes President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill?

The measure is, perhaps, besides Obamacare, the most momentous piece of legislation enacted in decades. Not only does the bill provide $1,400 in direct payments to most Americans to alleviate distress caused by the pandemic, but it also redirects the nation away from its recent past and renews the pledge of the New Deal in expanding the social safety net. The Democratic relief bill thoroughly rejects the governing principles enshrined since the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who believed government was the problem and saw the solution to economic difficulties in policies that directly aided the rich. Biden and the Democratic Party, in channeling Franklin Delano Roosevelt, reflect the view that only an active government can cure the nation’s ills.

According to the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University, the relief package will cut child poverty in half and lift nearly 13-million Americans out of poverty. Unlike the stimulus package passed during President Barack Obama’s first year in office, which was too modest in a futile attempt to attract Republican votes in Congress, the Biden plan delivers a turbocharged boost to the economy. “History and a strong body of research would tell us the only way to avoid more lasting scars on households and the economy is by not doing too little,” said Ellen Zentner, chief economist at Morgan Stanley. 

The plan is bold. In addition to direct payments, the measure allows $300 per week for unemployment benefits through the summer, significantly raises the child tax credit, allocates funds for higher education, increases payments to low-income families to help with home heating and cooling costs, distributes funds to older Americans to support nutrition programs, provides housing assistance, and beefs up the vaccine distribution effort. The bill also fulfills Biden’s campaign pledge to make the Affordable Care Act more affordable for millions of Americans by expanding subsidies for health insurance for two years.

This is — make no mistake about it — a Democratic package. Not one Republican in either the House or the Senate voted for it, despite the bill’s public popularity. Polls show that upwards of 75 percent of all Americans back the relief bill, with nearly 60 percent of Republicans favoring it. That level of support is unprecedented and will put Republican candidates in a difficult spot in the 2022 mid-term congressional elections. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell anticipated that problem when he tried to preempt any future Democratic suggestions that the bill led to an improving economy. “The economy’s coming back, people are getting the vaccine, we’re on our way out of this. We’re about to have a boom,” the Kentuckian said. “And if we do have a boom, it will have absolutely nothing to do with this $1.9 trillion.”

Republican Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi took a different tack by attempting to take credit for a bill he did not support. In a tweet, Wicker praised the “targeted relief” directed at “independent restaurant operators.” The Mississippian co-authored the amendment allotting the funds, but Wicker’s Twitter feed quickly was inundated with tweets like “Oh no, you don’t get to take credit for this. You voted no,” a sticky fact Wicker did not mention in his original tweet. Wicker’s misplaced effort to take credit only proved Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s exasperated point about Republican obstruction: “It’s typical that they vote no and take the dough.”

The relief plan marks a major evolution for the president. In his five-decade career in politics, Biden appealed largely to union workers and blue-collar tradesmen like those in Scranton, Pennsylvania where he grew up. The nearly two-trillion dollar spending package makes the crusader for the middle class also the champion for the poor. 

Biden spent most of his years in Congress concentrating on foreign policy and such domestic issues as criminal justice reform and gun control. Economic policy interested him little, but aides say the president enthusiastically has embraced his new role and is willing to use Democratic power to enact sweeping rather than incremental change. A naturally empathetic man, Biden has been moved by the unequal suffering inflicted on the poor by the pandemic. “Millions of Americans who, through no fault of their own, have lost the dignity and respect that comes with a job and a paycheck,” the president said in January. “And now, a lot of these folks are facing eviction, or waiting hours in their cars — literally hours in their cars, waiting to be able to feed their children as they drive up to a food bank.  It’s the United States of America and they’re waiting to feed their kids.”

 “We all grow,” said Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-ranking House Democrat. And, we all change, which is what has happened to the Democratic Party as it has moved to the left. The progressive tilt of the party was demonstrated in the vigorous presidential campaigns waged in 2016 and 2020 by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a self-described democratic socialist. The electoral successes of Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, among others, also have turned the party into a vehicle for progressive ideas. 

Democrats have embraced a host of progressive ideas such as the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, tuition-free college, immigration reform, and democratization of the political system. The Republican Party’s laser-like focus on tax cuts and the politics of grievance leaves Democrats as the only political players seriously entertaining ideas aimed at addressing economic and social problems. And a lack of bipartisan cooperation from the opposition means Democrats have little incentive to work with Republicans on compromises, a fact of modern political life that pushes both parties to the extremes.

The president has moved with his party. He knows the problems afflicting Americans are vast and require bold initiatives. Solving those problems is good politics. Besides. “Uncle Joe’s” gut tells him that helping the poorest among us is the right thing to do. 

Sometimes good politics and good morals align. And, the result is a very big deal, indeed.

Posted March 12, 2021

Same Old Obstructionists

The House is poised to vote Friday, February 26, on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill. The measure is widely popular among the public, including a substantial majority of Republicans. The bill has widespread support among Democratic and Republican governors and mayors across the country. So, logically, the stimulus package should enjoy bipartisan support in Congress, right?

Wrong! In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell attacked the bill this week. “The partisan bill Democrats are preparing is stuffed with non-COVID-related liberal goals and more band-aid policies as if the country were going to stay shut down another year,” McConnell tweeted. Then, the Kentuckian added, “We need 2021 to be different than 2020. Congress should focus on smart policies to help that happen.” As far as I can tell, the only difference between 2020 and 2021 is the party in control of the levers of power. All of the Republican Senate conference apparently agrees with McConnell and will vote against the bill. The situation in the House is the same as probably no Republicans in the lower chamber will support the bill.

Republican congressional intransigence amounts to political malpractice. A poll released this week shows that 76 percent of all voters support the stimulus package. Among Democrats, support rises to a whopping 89 percent. But, and this is what is most interesting, 60 percent of Republicans favor the bill’s passage. No wonder Biden’s approval rating registers well above 50 percent in FiveThirtyEight’s amalgamation of polls!

And, no wonder the Biden administration claims that the bill has bipartisan support. In what amounts to a novel definition of bipartisanship, the new administration cites poll numbers as proof its first big congressional measure has bipartisan support — among voters if not in Congress. As press secretary Jen Psaki argues, “[Biden] didn’t run on a promise to unite the Democratic and Republican Party [sic] into one party in Washington.”

No doubt some of the Republican opposition in Congress is a reflexive turn to the kind of obstructionism and gridlock Republicans have practiced for decades. McConnell is, of course, the master obstructionist when it comes to Democratic policies. President Barack Obama received scant Republican support for his signature proposals, even though he frequently tailored them to appeal to moderate Republican support. Obama’s failure to win any Republican backing only proves that moderate Republicans — at least in Congress — are a rare breed. 

It is also probably true that many Republicans — having argued for months that Biden’s victory resulted from electoral fraud — find it hard to work with the new president for fear that cooperation gives Biden legitimacy. That is a risk most Republican voters and local officials appear ready to take, so intransigence in Washington will only alienate Republican senators and House members from their constituents. It will be interesting to see how those up for reelection in 2022 defend their opposition to the stimulus package. 

The bill is expensive, to be sure. But, it is loaded with lots of things guaranteed to appeal to working-class voters, the part of the electorate many Republicans want to attract to a revamped party. “We are a working-class party now,” tweeted Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley last November. “That’s the future.” Others — including Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Marco Rubio of Florida — have bought into Hawley’s vision, but the attempt to refashion the Republican Party into a truly populist entity — as opposed to former president Donald Trump’s faux populism rooted in racial and cultural grievances — runs against the image of a party drawing its support from the country club set and Wall Street types. It also jeopardizes the ability of Republicans to appeal to the extraordinarily wealthy donor class that has traditionally funded the party. McConnell especially worries about alienating big GOP donors.

Economic populists like Hawley want to make class, not race, the new fault line in American politics. A class-based ideology makes it easier for Republicans to attract working-class Black and Latino voters. But, this is the point at which the unified opposition of congressional Republicans to the Biden coronavirus relief package makes no sense. One part of the bill — in jeopardy in the Senate because of a ruling by that body’s parliamentarian — proposes raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, a measure that has the support of two-thirds of Americans. Raising the minimum wage ought to appeal to senators like Hawley, Cotton, and Rubio, all of whom are known to harbor presidential ambitions that dictate broadening the party’s appeal to include blue-collar workers.

Rubio makes an interesting case study on the minimum wage, since voters in his state approved a ballot measure hiking the minimum to $15 an hour. Florida is hardly a liberal bastion in the mode of California and New York, yet it became the eighth state overall and the first in the South to adopt the $15 an hour standard. But, the senator from Florida, who has spoken eloquently about broadening the party’s appeal, has not been a backer of a minimum wage increase. 

Perhaps, Rubio and other Republicans are willing to talk about attracting working-class voters but are less enthusiastic about pushing measures that might actually accomplish that goal. Maybe, these Republicans agree with McConnell on the need to attract big donors to bankroll Republican candidates. Possibly, their populism is not that much different from Trump’s after all as it is based more on grievance than righting iniquities.

It is hard to see the new populism as anything other than a ploy to hide the fact that Republicans lack any kind of vision that appeals to voters. With no readily popular set of policies, Republicans, again, have turned to obstructionism, the politics of grievance, and repeated and ongoing attempts to limit voting. These three factors explain Republican congressional opposition to the stimulus package that has the backing of a large majority of voters regardless of their party affiliation and why the next big battle in Congress — after passage of the coronavirus relief bill — will be over protecting voting rights and expanding access to the ballot box.

Posted February 26, 2021

 

 

QAnon and the New McCarthyism

mccarthyism (the kevin variant) n. 1. the behavior of a craven, amoral politician eager to advance his or her political career at the expense of the security and safety of the nation. 

2. The antithesis of patriotism.

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“I think it would be helpful if you could hear exactly what she told all of us — denouncing Q-on, I don’t know if I say it right, I don’t even know what it is,” House Minority Leader  Kevin McCarthy (Q-Calif.) said after he defended the bigoted, conspiracy theorist freshman Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (Q-Ga.) for her heinous remarks and actions. His defense is a classic example of the new McCarthyism.

Nice try, Representative McCarthy, but pulling the old Trumpian dodge — “I know nothing about QAnon” — will not get you off the hook. Here is the problem with that formulation, Mr. Minority Leader: The rest of us know enough about QAnon and its loony conspiracies to condemn it. And, here is another problem, Mr. Craven Politician: You are on tape, on FOX News last August, condemning QAnon. “Let me be very clear: There is no place for QAnon in the Republican Party. I do not support it,” you said then. I know you do not have a reputation as the sharpest knife in the drawer, but surely, Mr. McCarthy, your memory is better than that. But, selective amnesia is a part of the new McCarthyism.

Of course, the gyrations of the Republican House leader on Greene reflect the state of today’s Republican Party. There may have been no place for QAnon in the Republican Party six months ago, but, today, McCarthy and the bulk of the Republican House caucus are more than willing to carve out a spot for her, with some members giving her a standing ovation at a contentious meeting Wednesday night. Think about that: Republicans in the House gave a standing ovation to a colleague who wants Speaker Nancy Pelosi assassinated. The reasons are simple: Greene mirrors the views of millions of voters to whom the party appeals, and she is close to former president Donald Trump. Greene may hold idiotic notions, but she is savvy enough to know when to invoke Trump’s name, which she did last weekend as the furor over her intensified. “I had a great call with my all time favorite POTUS, President Trump! I’m so grateful for his support,” the QAnon lawmaker tweeted. 

It is hard to see this McCarthyist cowardice as a winning strategy. Republican loyalty to Trump led to the party losing the White House, the House, and the Senate after controlling all three in 2017. Sure, a public vote to remove Greene from her committee assignments might result in a primary challenge against a member from someone even further out in la-la land, but what is the value in staving off a primary challenge only to lose in the general election?

Actually, many Senate Republicans understand the danger of hooking the party to QAnon. “Loony lies and conspiracy theories are cancer for the Republican Party and the country,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The second-ranking Republican in the Senate, John Thune of South Dakota, asked whether Republicans “want to be the party of limited government… or do they want to be the party of conspiracy theories and QAnon? (The Senator might want to withdraw the question as he might not want to hear the answer.) Utah Senator Mitt Romney said, “Our big tent is not large enough to both accommodate conservatives and kooks.” 

Many Senate Republicans know Greene spells disaster for the Republican Party. Already, the Democratic Party is running an advertising campaign making Greene the face of the GOP. But, Senate Republican condemnation of Greene rings hollow given the party’s past tolerance of Trump’s lies and embrace of conspiracy theories. Remember, Trump came to political prominence pushing “birtherism.” Along the way, he claimed Senator Ted Cruz’s father helped assassinate John Kennedy; Barack Obama founded the Islamic State; TV anchor Joe Scarborough, when a congressman, murdered one of his staffers, and many more “looney lies.” Trump’s penchant for conspiracy theories culminated in the big lie of a stolen election in 2020 that led to the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

The dynamic in the House is different. Republicans in the lower chamber refused to take any action against Greene, settling, instead, for a tortured McCarthyist statement from their leader in which McCarthy said Greene’s “past comments now have much greater meaning. Marjorie recognized this in our conversation. I hold her to her word, as well as her actions going forward” before pivoting to attacking the Democrats for wanting to more effectively rebuke the Georgia representative. House Republicans assume a racist, anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist who has not apologized for any of her assaults on decency will behave decorously in the future. Good luck with that!

Republicans also took up the future of Representative Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the third-ranking House Republican. Cheney, a consistent conservative, ran afoul of the Trumpistas in the party for voting to impeach Trump for instigating the Capitol riot. Cheney survived by a vote of 145 to 61, but only, one suspects, because the vote was secret. On the open vote Thursday on removing Greene from House committees, only 11 Republicans voted in the affirmative. The vast majority of Republicans were unmoved by the emotional appeal of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer who displayed a picture of Greene posing with an assault rifle juxtaposed with photos of three progressive Democratic congresswomen of color above a caption, “The Squad’s Worst Nightmare.” “When you take this vote, imagine your faces on this poster,” Hoyer said to his Republican colleagues. “Imagine it’s a Democrat with an AR-15. Imagine what your response would be.”

The cowardice of the new McCarthyism is unfathomable. Just two years ago, McCarthy stripped Iowa Representative Steve King of his committee appointments because of his history of white supremacist remarks. Odious as King’s racism was, it seems tame compared to the egregious behavior of Marjorie Taylor Greene. But, according to the new McCarthyism, it is acceptable for members of the United States House of Representatives to threaten other members on the other side of the aisle with assault rifles.

Fortunately, at least for now, the Democrats have a majority in the House.

Posted February 5, 2021

The Right Person for the Job

President Joe Biden has his work cut out for him. 

Abraham Lincoln assumed the presidency with seven states out of the union and civil war imminent. But, even Lincoln did not face the array of problems confronting Biden: A pandemic worsened by his predecessor’s incompetence and malevolence; an economy in crisis because of COVID-19; the repercussions of four centuries of systemic racism; growing right-wing extremism; and a country in which a large minority of the population, fed lies by many of its leaders, does not believe Biden was elected fairly. And, if all that were not enough, the new president leads a party divided into progressives who want bold actions to right wrongs and moderates who desire only an updated version of old-time Democratic politics. Biden must juggle all these problems while governing with the slimmest of congressional majorities.

Biden was not my first choice — nor second, nor third — as the Democratic nominee, but I have come to believe he is the right leader for our times. Some men — they have all been men so far, after all — grow into the presidency. Lincoln is a case in point. He became president after a rather undistinguished political career, and he was treated with scorn by many of the Republican Party’s more distinguished and prominent leaders. But, Lincoln soon demonstrated the compassion, intelligence, and moral steeliness that made him the man who led the nation through the Civil War and set the moral tone that led to the abolition of slavery.

Joe Biden is different. He has grown into a better version of himself. Gone is the young man in a hurry, the politician who tried to please everyone and who spoke too much about just about everything. Biden actually assumed the presidency weeks before he took the oath, setting the tone for combatting the virus while denouncing the insurrection of January 6 as an “unprecedented assault… [that] borders on sedition.” His predecessor, Donald Trump, spent the interregnum after his electoral defeat holed up in the Oval Office, ignoring the pandemic while raging about non-existent electoral fraud, giving Biden the chance to act presidential before becoming president. 

Biden and the Democrats have an opportunity to accomplish much by going bold, by passing as soon as possible a nearly two-trillion-dollar COVID relief package, then tackling systemic racism, economic inequality, climate change, the high cost of a college education, and healthcare. It will not be easy, given the party’s slender majorities in Congress and the already evident Republican obstructionism. But, achieving even part of this ambitious agenda will help restore the nation’s faith in the efficacy of government. As Senator Bernie Sanders told Ezra Klein of The New York Times: “This is a fight not just for the future of the Democratic Party or good policy. It is literally a fight to restore faith in small-d democratic government.” A Democratic failure to deliver on the party’s promises would open the door for a candidate representing the faux populism of Donald Trump, only this time perhaps headed by an individual who is something Trump is not: Smart and not averse to work.

The new president has an immediate opportunity to convince the public of the efficacy of government for solving problems. If Biden can succeed on his promise of delivering 100-million coronavirus vaccine doses in his administration’s first 100 days, he and his team will demonstrate a level of competence not shown by the Trump administration. It is a doable goal since, in recent days, roughly a million doses a day have been administered. Indeed, Biden may be able to exceed his initial promise and deliver more vaccines more quickly.

Ever since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s hectic first 100 days, incoming administrations have been judged by how much they can accomplish in that short period. Roosevelt, of course, had the urgency of the Great Depression and the backing of a weary and battered public that had soured on the inability of his predecessor to alleviate its suffering. Roosevelt also had huge majorities in the House and Senate, something that Biden does not possess. Still, an effective attack on the pandemic will boost Biden and convince many Americans that — like Roosevelt nearly a century earlier — he is governing on their behalf.

Biden has stressed unity and bipartisanship. The new president came to political prominence in a time in which Democrats and Republicans compromised to pass legislation that gave neither party all it wanted but often advanced the public good. He is steeped in the culture of bipartisan cooperation. But, that was then: In recent decades, obstruction has been the byword for a divided and gridlocked Congress. 

Already, Republicans appear to be recycling the obstructionism of the Obama years. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has thrown roadblocks into organizing the Senate, demanding Democrats promise not to eliminate the filibuster. Biden and his legislative allies cannot agree to that demand because the filibuster is part of the carrot and stick the party can dangle before Republicans. The carrot: Cooperate on the stimulus package and Democrats will share credit for its passage with Republicans. The stick: Obstruct the package, and Democrats will end the filibuster. 

Unity is certainly a worthwhile goal, but the urgency of the moment is more critical, especially since almost all Republicans are lining up in opposition to the economic stimulus package, Biden’s critical first piece of legislation. As Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren said, “It’s important that Democrats deliver for America. If the best path to that [sic] is to do it in a way that can bring Republicans along, I’m all in favor of that. But if Republicans want to cut back to the point that we’re not delivering what needs to be done, then we need to be prepared to fight them. Our job is to deliver for the American people.” Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland agreed, but he also stressed the need for quick action, saying Democrats cannot afford a “long drawn-out process” such as occurred when President Barack Obama worked to secure congressional approval for his economic stimulus package in 2009.

Looming over the quick passage of needed legislation and possible bipartisan cooperation is the coming Senate trial of former President Donald Trump, slated to begin in two weeks. It is possible that Trump’s trial might work to Biden’s favor. The constant drumbeat of revelations — both in Trump’s complicity in goading the insurrectionists and in his never-ending attempts up to January 20 to overturn the results of the election — might convince enough moderate and traditional Republicans to vote to convict. Democratic-Republican cooperation in the trial could spill over into the legislative arena, ushering in a new era of inter-party cooperation.

The odds are against that, but, after all, in early 2020, who thought Joe Biden would be president a year later? And, if anyone can unify Americans and their political leaders behind a common goal, it is Joe Biden, a decent man for the times.

Posted January 26, 2021