Tag Archives: Joe Biden

There Will Be Blood

What is so hard, what is so hard about saying that this is wrong?Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, on the floor of the House during the debate over censuring Representative Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona, for posting a violent video depicting him murdering Ocasio-Cortez and attacking President Joe Biden.

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Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Someone will be killed. People will die. The eagerness of some Republicans to portray violence against members of the opposite party and the willingness of most of the rest of the party to condone those depictions, inevitably, will lead to violence. Violence begets violence. Of that, there is no question. And, when the inevitable occurs, blood will be on the hands of virtually every Republican, including those who lacked the courage to say: This is wrong!

Ocasio-Cortez’s question was directed at Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy, who once again demonstrated his willingness to tolerate violent and hateful speech and actions from members of his caucus. McCarthy has said nothing publicly about the cartoon Gosar posted on the Internet. McCarthy’s silence condones Gosar’s ugliness, encouraging the Arizonan and others to engage in more vileness while inviting actual violence. 

Make no mistake about it: Gosar’s posting endangers members of the Congress and the president of the United States. If anyone without the protection of a congressional seat posted a similar video, he or she would have had the Secret Service and the FBI at his or her doorstep in a split second. Threatening an official of the United States government is a felony. 

Gosar has not apologized for the video. He mocked what he called the “faux outrage,” which he finds “infantile.” He says,“The hyperventilating and shrill accusations that this cartoon is dangerous [is] laughable or intentionally hyperbolic.” In his defense on the House floor Wednesday, Gosar noted he took down the video — after three million views of it — and tried to portray himself as the victim. He vowed to “continue to speak out.” 

Only two Republicans — Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — voted with Democrats Wednesday to censure Gosar. No doubt many fear the anger of ultra-conservatives. Officials report that death threats against members of Congress have more than doubled in the last few years. Colorado Democrat Jason Crow says such threats “are unfortunately the reality of congressional life.” Ohio Republican Representative Anthony Gonzalez recently announced he would not seek reelection because of threats against him following his vote to impeach then-President Donald Trump. Gonzalez, who is 37, is leaving Congress after only two terms because of fears for the safety of his wife and young children.

Gonzalez is not exaggerating the danger. Representative Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, received an obscene and violent voicemail in which the caller said, “I hope you die. I hope everybody in your fucking family dies.” Upton’s “crime”: He voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, along with 12 other House Republicans and 19 Republican Senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

It is, of course, extremely telling that what raises the ire of Republican right-wingers is not Gosar’s gross video but the votes of those 13 House Republicans. Apparently, doing the people’s business is now a crime on the right. Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene — who may be even nuttier than Gosar — said this about her colleagues: “Any Republican that votes yes to an infrastructure bill that helps Biden pass his agenda when bumbling Biden doesn’t even know what he’s doing, then that Republican is a traitor to our party, a traitor to their voters, and a traitor to our donors.” 

Nuttiness is endemic on the right these days. Gosar, for example, claims that Ashli Babbitt, the insurrectionist shot dead by Capitol Police on January 6, was “executed in cold blood” by an officer “lying in wait.” Gosar asserts, “Facts are coming to light that the FBI might have had a hand in planning and carrying out” the insurrection, though he fails to cite any of those “facts.” Gosar was one of more than 20 Republicans who voted against awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the officers who defended the Capitol on January 6. Finally, Gosar has consorted with White nationalists.

And, Republicans are angry at their colleagues who voted for better roads and bridges! As Kinzinger tweeted: “So let me understand, Gosar’s creepy anime of murder and such is ok but [New York Republican Representative] John Katko is the sinner for negotiating and voting for infrastructure?”

In remarks on the floor Wednesday, McCarthy accused Democrats of making “rules for thee, but not for me.” McCarthy has his facts wrong. The last censure vote in the House was in 2010 when New York Democratic Representative Charlie Rangel was rebuked for ethics violations in a bipartisan vote. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — a Democrat — read aloud the resolution censuring Rangel for bringing disgrace on the House. 

But, the debate over who is doing what to whom and who is or is not being consistent is beside the point. The important point is simple: Violence is unacceptable. Members of Congress cannot issue threats against their colleagues nor against the president (nor against anyone else, for that matter). Gosar is lucky he was only censured. He should be expelled and prosecuted for his felonious action.

Violence begets violence. Inevitable in this atmosphere is a shockingly violent act. When it happens, there will be blood not only on the hands of Paul Gosar and his ilk, but on all his enablers, whose ranks include Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and every member of the GOP caucus save the two who voted for Gosar’s censure. Sickeningly, even then, they likely will duck responsibility. When will Americans hold them accountable?

Posted November 19, 2021

 

 

Learning the Right Lessons

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Politicians, like generals, often look backward for guidance rather than to the future. Just as generals, as the saying goes, always fight the last war, politicians tend to take the perceived lessons from the last campaign as inspiration for the next one. Democrats and Republicans alike are pouring over the results of last Tuesday’s election to glean nuggets upon which to base strategy for the 2022 midterm elections.

But, are they drawing the right lessons?

No one elected Biden to be the second coming of FDR

Virginia Democratic Representative Abigail Spanberger said of President Joe Biden after the election: “Nobody elected him to be FDR, they elected him to be normal and stop the chaos.” Spanberger is a two-term member of Congress from Virginia. In 2018, Spanberger defeated David Brat, an ultra-conservative Republican incumbent, to become the first Democrat to represent her district since 1971. She is understandably nervous about her political fortunes in a district that Biden carried narrowly but which voted for Donald Trump for president in 2016 and which Glenn Youngkin won handily in his victory in last week’s gubernatorial election.

Spanberger is wrong historically and politically. Nobody in 1932 elected FDR to be FDR! Those who voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not have any inkling of the scope and extent of the New Deal. Roosevelt ran a cautious campaign, partly because he and his advisers did not fully understand the structural causes of the Great Depression and had not yet fully developed plans to combat the economic catastrophe. Also, Roosevelt realized how unpopular Herbert Hoover, the incumbent was, so he said little of substance, hoping to not commit any gaffes.

Politically, Spanberger is wrong. Now, it is possible that Democrats in Spanberger’s district played down Biden’s progressive agenda, but in deep blue parts of the country voters knew exactly for whom they were voting. Biden’s campaign was not shy about touting guaranteed family and medical leave, lower cost prescription drugs, universal preschool, free community college, expanded broadband, and a vigorous attack on climate change. 

In other words, all the progressive measures in the Build Back Better Bill were part of Biden’s campaign. 

The 2021 election was a defeat for progressivism

Maybe! But, it is also possible to look at the results and conclude that Republican gains came because of Democratic dithering in Washington. After all, the infrastructure package passed Congress after Election Day, and Democrats are still struggling to enact the Build Back Better Act. Terry McAuliffe, the defeated Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia, begged Democrats in Washington to “get their act together” and pass Biden’s agenda. 

Would it have made a difference? Who knows? But, this we do know: Individual parts of the Biden program are very popular with voters. Passage of most of the president’s agenda, coupled with a vigorous campaign to inform voters that Democrats are legislating on their behalf (yes, working on behalf of their constituents — what a novel idea!), might have an impact next November. Part of that campaign must be to highlight the contrast between Democrats and their do-nothing Republican opponents. After all, former President Donald Trump kept promising an “infrastructure week,” but it never happened. Democrats passed a significant infrastructure bill a “mere” 11 months into Biden’s presidency. 

Democrats must compete for the rural vote

Yes, the urban-rural vote divide is real and getting worse for Democrats. And, yes, Democrats should be competitive in all demographic and geographic groups and areas. But, it is easy to over-analyze the Virginia results.

Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin outperformed Donald Trump’s 2020 showing in even the reddest counties, winning rural Virginia counties by record margins. But, that is not the whole story of the Virginia election. McAuliffe won voter-rich Fairfax County, a Washington suburb, by 30 points. Biden beat Trump in Fairfax by 42 points. Same in Loudon County, which Biden carried by 25 points in 2020, but McAuliffe won by only 11. 

The lesson here? The rural vote should be contested, but McAuliffe lost in 2021 because he bled suburban voters.

Youngkin won because he handled Trump correctly

Yes, Youngkin ran a smart campaign, cleaving close enough to the discredited former president so as not to alienate Trump’s base, but keeping Trump far enough away in order to lure moderate suburban voters. But, it takes two to tango, and Youngkin’s strategy worked because Trump cooperated, staying out of Virginia and not saying anything too damaging. Will the irrepressible former president cooperate in 2022? His track record indicates he will intervene in many races.

Republicans should nominate moderates

Youngkin is hardly a moderate, but he ran a campaign that appealed to the particular concern of Virginia voters in 2021: Outrage over the teaching of race in public schools. This is an issue drummed up by conservatives who want to push so-called cultural issues over actual policies that benefit voters. In his campaign, Youngkin succeeded in avoiding some of the more damaging pitfalls that have torpedoed conservative Republicans in the past. (See Ken Cuccinelli, an ultra-conservative candidate who ran an unsuccessful race in 2013 against McAuliffe for governor of Virginia.)

Youngkin became the Republican nominee for governor by winning an unusual ranked-choice vote implemented by the Virginia Republican Party to prevent the nomination of a right-wing kook (again, see Ken Cuccinelli). But, the Virginia template will not be the electoral structure in other states. Much more likely will be primary battles in which ultra-conservative candidates try to outrun each other to the far right to please Donald Trump. Republicans who can win primaries may not be strong candidates in general elections (see Christine O’Donnell in Delaware in 2010, Todd Akin in Missouri in 2012, and Richard Mourdock in Indiana in 2012.)

Conclusion

There are valuable lessons to be learned from the 2021 off-year election. But, it is easy to draw the wrong conclusions. Besides, the electoral environment may be starkly different in 2022. The recovering economy may be booming by next November, thanks in part to implementation of the Biden agenda. Voters may be in the mood to reward Democrats for legislating on their behalf. 

Posted November 9, 2020

 

Make It About the Economy, Stupid

It’s the economy, stupid. — James Carville, 1992, advising the campaign of presidential aspirant Bill Clinton. 

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Tuesday’s Democratic debacle was devastating. But, bad as the results were, they point a way forward for the party’s candidates to win in the 2022 midterms: Make it about the economy.

President Joe Biden knows the truth of this maxim. “I think we should produce for the American people,” Biden said the day after the election. The president was explaining the need to enact his agenda, which, he said, would improve the lives of millions of Americans. He would not say that failure to pass the infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better Act hurt Democrats, particularly Terry McAuliffe’s campaign in Virginia to regain the governorship, but Democratic squabbling in Washington certainly left the impression of incompetence (thank you Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia!). 

Before Democrats go into full panic mode, they should take stock. Tuesday was awful, but not cataclysmic. Democratic Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey won reelection, albeit narrowly, in a reliably blue state. A progressive candidate, Michelle Wu, easily won the Boston mayoral race. Wu is a protégé of Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat. Eric Adams, a Democrat, won, becoming New York City’s second Black mayor. And, while McAuliffe lost in a state Biden carried by 10 points a year ago, Virginia almost always elects as governor a candidate from the opposite party of the president who won the previous year. 

Virginia was, of course, the big disappointment because the state has been trending blue. It may well be true that Virginia really is a purple state that looked blue only out of antipathy in recent years to former President Donald Trump. Certainly, the successful Republican candidate, Glenn Youngkin, managed the delicate balancing act of keeping Trump out of the state while sounding enough Trumpian themes to avoid angering the thin-skinned former president and Trump’s loyal base. Trump behaved, saying nice things about Youngkin and staying out of Virginia. Youngkin’s strategy frustrated McAuliffe, who tried unsuccessfully to argue that a vote for his opponent was a vote for the former president. 

But, will Youngkin’s strategy of keeping Trump at arm’s length work for other Republicans running for office in 2022? Probably not, because it is difficult to imagine that Trump will sit idly by in his lair at Mar-a-Lago while Republican congressional, senatorial, and gubernatorial candidates distance themselves from him. He managed the trick this time around with Youngkin, but I would not bet the ranch on him doing it again next year.

Youngkin’s handling of the disgraced former president is the first lesson Republican politicians and political pundits claim to have learned from the Virginia results. The second lesson is — supposedly — that cultural issues work to drive the base. Youngkin made education the centerpiece of his campaign, focusing on critical race theory and book banning. Those issues resonated to such an extent that Republicans think education should be at the forefront of issues next year.

The ever spineless Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, quickly got on board. “If the Virginia results showed us anything, it is that parents are demanding more control and accountability in the classroom,” McCarthy wrote in an election-night letter to his caucus. And, J.D. Vance, running in the Republican primary in Ohio for the Senate, channeled former President Richard Nixon, saying: “The professors are the enemy.” Parenthetical note: Vance has a law degree from Yale University. 

Will concerns over how race is taught in public schools work next year? Youngkin succeeded in using the teaching about the history of race relations in the United States as a dog whistle for fears surrounding White identity, but education does not travel well from the local arena to the national. For one thing, education is — and always has been — a local issue. Parents control education through local school boards, making public education perhaps the most democratic aspect of American society. And, historically, education is not a Republican issue. Voters usually trust Democrats to handle it better than Republicans. 

More importantly, there were educational concerns in the Virginia gubernatorial race that are particular to one state and one year. In addition to the highly publicized fears over race in the classroom, parents in Virginia were angry over last year’s closing of schools because of COVID-19 and riled about mask-wearing mandates. Those concerns may be ancient history by November 2022. Asian parents had worries over access to programs for gifted students, and Black parents were upset over teachers’ unions’ opposition to charter schools.  

I am not at all certain that Youngkin’s campaign provides a template for Republican candidates running for national office in 2022. I am certain, however, that Democratic success at the polls hinges on first producing results for the American people and then convincing voters of the value of those results while painting the Republicans as the “do-nothing” party. Let Republicans stick to the war on culture in lieu of economic policies that substantively improve voters’ lives.

People are nervous about the economy, which has recovered unevenly from its disruption during the depths of the pandemic. Gas prices are up, inflation fears loom, and breaks in the supply chain are a worry as the holiday shopping season begins. To allay anxiety, Democrats must quickly pass the Build Back Better Act, and then waste no time explaining its benefits to the public: Universal free preschool, child care for working parents, tax credits to families with children, expanded care for seniors, assistance to cash-strapped consumers shifting to clean energy, relief from the high cost of prescription drugs, improvements to the Affordable Care Act, and on and on. 

These are real benefits for working, middle-class Americans. It is a platform for Democrats to run on in 2022, contrasting Democratic-passed reforms with the do-nothing Republicans whose major accomplishment when Trump was president was a whopping tax cut for the very wealthy. And, part of next year’s campaign should be this: Elect more Democrats who will build on and strengthen these accomplishments.

Make it about the economy, stupid!

Posted November 5, 2021

Time’s Up, Senator!

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Open letter to Senator Joe Manchin,* Democrat of West Virginia:

You tried, Senator! You helped draft a compromise on voting rights — fashioning a bill not quite as good as the one the House passed earlier, but still good — and took it to Republicans. You told your colleagues in the Democratic senatorial caucus that you could get 10 Republican votes for the compromise. Well, you were wrong. The Republicans would not even allow a vote to come to the floor! So, now is the time to move boldly and reform the filibuster to pass legislation to protect the fundamental basis of a democratic government: The right to vote!

Because, senator, here’s the thing: Our democracy is at stake. If the federal government does not move to protect voting rights for all Americans in every state, then no election in the future truly will reflect the will of the people. Millions of Democratic-leaning voters — particularly young people and people of color — will be denied access to the ballot, tilting the field toward Republicans. And, even if Democrats manage to eke out victories, Republican legislators have given partisan state officials wide authority to overturn election results. And, the Supreme Court cannot be counted on to protect the electoral system, given how Republicans — led by Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell — have stacked that body with politically motivated (though some justices publicly have denied this) conservatives.

If you, Senator Manchin, and your Democratic colleagues do not secure passage of S. 2747, the Freedom to Vote Act, then the game is up. Republicans now control the Supreme Court. Without federal guarantees of free and fair elections, Republicans easily will win a majority in the House in 2022 and probably the Senate. In 2024, candidate Donald Trump could well lose the presidential election by millions of votes and lose the Electoral College by an even greater margin than in 2020, but still be inaugurated as president on January 20, 2025. How? Easily, as Republican legislatures in such states as Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, aided by compliant governors, certify Republican electors even though the Democrats secured a majority of the popular vote. They will do in the next presidential election what Trump tried to do in the last. 

Fanciful, you say? No, the road map from 2020 is in place. If this happens — and it is a very real possibility — then Democrats will never, at least not in our lifetimes and the lifetimes of our children — wield political power again. Imagine a world in which Republicans dominate all the levers of the federal government and many state governments, as well. You think we have problems now? Imagine what the tax code will look like. You think the United States suffers from income inequality today? Imagine the disparity in income and wealth under Republicans who have no fear of ever losing power again. 

I know you represent a coal-producing state, senator, but even West Virginians have to be concerned about climate change. Well, if you think it is getting warmer now, think again about how hot it might be 20 or 30 years from now if the federal government does not take steps — any steps — to control carbon emissions. Think about the levels of pollution in our water and in the air we breathe.

You are a conservative Democrat, Senator Manchin, but still a Democrat, if only for a bit longer. I would wager you care about some of the priorities in the huge budget reconciliation bill that President Joe Biden supports. Do you think any of the provisions you favor in that bill will ever become law if Republicans can do as they please? Or, stay as law if you manage to squeak legislation through this term?

All of this is why passing the Freedom to Vote Act is so important. Nothing gets done — or stays done — without it. You know this, which is why you worked with several of your Democratic colleagues on the legislation. If passed, this bill will override restrictive state laws that make voting more difficult. It will prevent Republican voting officials from purging voter rolls, and it will guarantee mail-in voting. The bill curbs gerrymandering, limits dark money, and prevents state officials from manipulating election results. As you well know, these are good things for a democracy, senator!

This bill is foundational. You know that, which is why you worked on it. You thought a compromise might attract Republican senators. Well, nice try! Wednesday, in the Senate, all 50 Republicans voted against permitting debate on the bill. They invoked the filibuster, preventing even consideration of this all-important legislation. As Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer put it, “If there’s anything worthy of the Senate’s attention, if there’s any issue that merits debate on this floor, it’s protecting our democracy from the forces that are trying to unravel it from the inside out.”

The sentiments Schumer uttered should be obvious to all, but in the Senate of today, that is not the case. Republicans — who voted overwhelmingly for extensions to the Voting Rights law in the past, and most recently as 2006, without a dissenting vote — now are so afraid of Donald Trump and the power of his “Big Lie” that they are willing to overthrow American democracy in order to protect their pathetic political careers.

Do not let them get away with it! 

Get the Freedom to Vote Act passed, even if it means limiting or overturning the filibuster!

Sincerely,

A Concerned Voter

*Manchin is not the only Democratic senator clinging to the filibuster, but he has been most vocal about it, and he suggested he could deliver Republican votes.

Posted October 22, 2021

Donald Trump, Please Keep Talking

If we don’t solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020 (which we have thoroughly and conclusively documented), Republicans will not be voting in ‘22 or ‘24. It is the single most important thing for Republicans to do. — Statement by Donald Trump, the former president, October 13, 2021.

 

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

I think I speak for all progressives and a good smattering of moderates when I say: Go, Donnie, go! Whip up your supporters into a frenzy of not voting. The more they heed you, the better. 

After all, the non-voting strategy worked well in the two Georgia Senate runoff races in January 2021. In early December, two Trump allies, Lin Wood and Sidney Powell, urged Republicans not to vote for either Kelly Loeffler or Davide Perdue, the incumbent senators locked in a tight race against Democratic challengers. “Don’t be fooled twice,” Wood said. “This is Georgia, we ain’t dumb. We’re not going to go vote on January 5th on another machine made by China. You’re not going to fool Georgians again.” 

Yes, sir, that strategy worked well! Georgia Republicans apparently are not dumb(?) and, heeding Wood’s advice, were not fooled twice. According to an analysis of the election results by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, more than 750,000 Georgians who cast ballots in the November presidential election stayed home during the runoffs two months later. More than half of the no-shows were White and many lived in rural areas, demographic and geographic constituencies that lean heavily Republican. As one Georgian said, “What good would it have done to vote? They have votes that got changed.” 

The non-voting strategy worked so well that Democrats now control the Senate, albeit barely.

With Democrats divided among themselves over advancing President Joe Biden’s ambitious agenda and given the traditional bounce the party out of power gets in mid-term elections, Democrats may need oodles of Republicans to stay home in 2022 if they are to retain control of both the House and the Senate. The current Democratic razor-thin majorities in Congress would benefit greatly from great numbers of Republican no-shows around the country. 

Trump phrased his communication as a declarative statement, announcing that Republicans will not vote because of alleged fraud. But, like much of what Trump says to his followers, the above statement is likely to be interpreted by many in the Trump cult as a command not to vote, which probably was Trump’s intention. 

To the members of the Trump cult, it matters little that neither Trump nor his lawyers or sycophants have presented a shred of evidence of electoral fraud. If the Grand Poobah of Mar-a-Lago says he lost because of fraud, then it must be so for his ever loyal and unquestioning followers. And, presumably, millions of Republicans will heed his orders and not vote. 

So, here is one progressive’s dream-like scenario. With millions of Trump followers not voting in 2022, the Democrats win overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate. Democrats win over 300 seats in the House and dominate the Senate by a margin of 67-33. The House easily passes a raft of progressive legislation, and the paltry number of Republicans in the Senate are unable to filibuster the Biden agenda. Not only are Senate Republicans and naked-Emperor Mitch McConnell (see previous blog post) rendered impotent, but moderate Democrats — like West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema — are overwhelmed and can no longer derail progressive legislation.

In early 2023, Democrats enact measures (or expand on the incomplete legislation of 2021) guaranteeing free community college for all, child care for toddlers, child tax credits, expanded Medicare and Medicaid (perhaps even Medicare-for-All), the Green New Deal, paid parental leave, and much more. Immigration is reformed, giving millions of the undocumented a pathway to citizenship. And, voting rights are protected by a bill that enshrines early voting and mail-in balloting, makes Election Day a federal holiday, and rolls back all the Republican-passed state laws that suppress and nullify the vote and disempower state officials in their roles in the electoral process.

Trump and his followers wake up and realize that not voting is not a very good idea. But, since they conceded the 2022 election to Democrats, the 2024 presidential election will be free and fair. Even as Republicans flock to the polls again, their votes cannot change the outcome. Tens of millions of Americans are pleased with the Democratic legislation that has brought the United States into the modern world, guaranteeing a social safety net comparable to that of other industrialized democracies. And, all those pleased Americans can now vote freely and fairly, without the threat of Republicans suppressing and nullifying the votes of those who tend to vote Democratic. So, Joe Biden sweeps to a landslide re-election and the Democrats retain their large majorities in both the House and Senate. 

Go ahead, Donnie, please keep issuing statements. You may be the Democrats’ best friend yet!

Posted October 15, 2021

So… The Emperor Has No Clothes

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Most political analysts assume Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is a master strategist who knows how to use (or bend) the Senate’s rules to achieve his ends. That is the prevailing interpretation based on McConnell’s career in the Senate and his sometimes dubious accomplishments, such as pilfering a seat on the Supreme Court by denying Merrick Garland a vote and ramming through Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination in the waning weeks of the Trump administration.

But, what if the emperor has no clothes? Is it possible that the unnecessary and silly dispute over raising the debt ceiling reveals not McConnell’s wiliness and strength but, rather, his impotence?

McConnell admitted as much in recent days when he conceded that even if he wanted to allow Democrats to raise the debt ceiling on a straight party vote, with Republicans voting “no” but not filibustering the measure, he could not corral every Republican to allow the increase to pass. McConnell did convince 10 Republicans to approve a procedural move to allow the Democrats to move forward a stopgap bill raising the debt ceiling through early December. That bill passed Thursday night on a straight party vote. But, the concession is a temporary, not a long-term, fix, and its passage left some  Senate Republicans angry with McConnell because they think he caved into the Democrats. 

Most analysts agree the majority of the Republican caucus would stand aside and allow the Democrats to pass a debt ceiling increase rather than force the United States to default on its debts. But, there are a few diehard conservatives among Republicans — perhaps five or so senators — who would filibuster any proposal that would allow a majority vote on the issue. If one senator objects, then it would take 10 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats to end a filibuster. That would reveal dissension among Republicans, something that McConnell would not want made public. 

The debt ceiling standoff — temporarily ended, though it may be — is yet another argument for abolishing the filibuster. The filibuster has become a tool of Republican obstructionism, allowing a willful, petulant minority to prevent the majority from doing the people’s business. Something is wrong with a system that allows one senator to filibuster a measure and the rest of his or her colleagues refusing to vote to stop that obstructionism. Republican senators represent 40 million fewer voters than Democratic senators, yet the Senate is evenly split. It is likely to get worse. According to estimates, by 2040, 70 percent of Americans will be living in the 15 most populous states. They will be represented by only 30 senators, while the other 30 percent of Americans will have 70 senators voting on their behalf. 

The filibuster gives a small minority of a minority the power to prevent popular legislation from passing. It is absurd that a handful of senators, from small states, can prevent passage of popular measures to protect the environment, raise the minimum wage, or reform immigration policy. Both parties, of course, have wielded the filibuster in recent years to frustrate the other, but McConnell and his Republican colleagues have utilized the filibuster to bolster minority power in ways never intended by either the Framers of the Constitution or by senators through most of American history.

Fear that Democrats might take steps to abolish or limit the filibuster probably convinced Republicans to yield temporarily on the debt ceiling increase. While the filibuster is hard to justify ever, its use on matters that are not issues of policy — such as the United States honoring its debts — is beyond the pale. Everyone on both sides of the aisle insists that the United States must not default on its obligations, yet Republicans were willing to prevent a vote that would allow the country to honor its debt. Invoking the filibuster on the debt ceiling was not policy, but political maneuvering by Republicans aimed at making Democrats as uncomfortable as possible and, ultimately, allowing Republicans to portray Democrats as profligate spenders. South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham conceded the political motives of Republicans when he said, “I mean, I’m not going to be a complete asshole about it [raising the debt ceiling]. But, I’m going to make them take some tough votes.” Good to know that Graham sees himself as only a partial “asshole.”

Democrats have been inching toward doing something about the filibuster by either eliminating it entirely or carving out categories of legislation that would not be subject to minority obstruction. Republican intransigence on voting rights, for example, has forced increased demands for reforming the filibuster. The current fight over the debt ceiling has led some who have been hesitant to end the filibuster to change their minds. President Joe Biden — who served decades in the Senate and has been viewed by many as an “institutionalist” — said this week that it is “a real possibility” the Senate would change its rules to bypass Republican filibustering on the debt ceiling. Later, Biden added that filibustering debt legislation is “not right, and it’s dangerous.”

“Republicans are making the case more powerfully than I could a million times on the floor,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat and a longtime filibuster opponent. “What they are doing is obstruction and utterly exposes the filibuster. And it is not just inconvenience. It is desperately dangerous.” McConnell and other Republicans may have gotten the message that Democrats saw the fight over the debt ceiling as a way to alter the filibuster.

But, that recognition does not change the fact that McConnell cannot control his caucus. The willingness of a handful of Republican senators on the far right to endanger the credit of the United States forced McConnell to deny Democrats any Republican cooperation in allowing a straight party vote on preventing a default. So, perhaps it is McConnell being led by far right conservatives in the Republican Party rather than McConnell leading the Republican caucus.

After all, the emperor has no clothes!

Posted October 8, 2021

Creativity Required

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Legislation is not like model car kits where mere assembly of parts suffices. Rather, legislation is like an erector set where creativity brings results. Democrats, it is time to be creative! 

Creativity will be needed to fashion an agreement on President Joe Biden’s ambitious agenda to expand America’s social safety net that satisfies all wings of the Democratic Party. The president remains optimistic. “I’m telling you we’re going to get this done,” he said. “It doesn’t matter when. It doesn’t matter whether it’s six minutes, six days, or six weeks. We’re going to get it done.” 

Centrist Democrats — particularly West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema — have balked at the $3.5 trillion price tag for the larger reconciliation package, the so-called soft infrastructure bill, which tackles climate change and funds free community college, child care, and other social policy initiatives. There is widespread recognition in the Democratic caucus that a compromise resulting in a lower dollar amount is needed, but the route by which Democrats get to an agreement remains unclear. 

Democrats have several options. One possible way to satisfy Sinema and Manchin and other moderates might be shortening the timeframe. The original package was for $3.5 trillion spent over a decade. Democrats could shorten the years funded for some or all of the programs contained in the bill. Two staunch progressives — Representative Ro Khanna of California and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York — indicated that a shorter funding period might be an option. “I think that one of the ideas that’s out there is fully fund what we can fully fund, but maybe instead of doing it for 10 years, you fully fund it for five years,” said Ocasio-Cortez. Khanna agreed: “We can front-load the benefits and have less years.”

Fully funding all the programs for fewer years amounts to a budgetary gimmick, but it would bring down the overall price tag, which might satisfy Democratic centrists. Progressives might buy into such an agreement on the theory that it is difficult to defund an existing program — such as free community college — that is popular with the public. 

Other options are available. The starting date for the various parts of the reconciliation package could be staggered, delaying funding for some programs while fully funding others immediately. Or, Democrats might agree to implement all the parts of the bill while providing less funding across all programs than initially proposed. Finally, Democrats might fully fund fewer programs. The latter seems less palatable as progressives insist on including such controversial parts of the bill as tackling climate change, a major sticking point with Manchin who comes from a major coal-producing state. 

Progressives are in a strong position: They have Biden on their side. The president made it clear last Friday when he traveled to Capitol Hill that he sees both bills — the hard and the soft infrastructure measures — as linked. Moderates in the House have pushed for passage of the smaller roads and bridges proposal before taking up the costlier bill, a timeline opposed by progressives who fear that if the hard infrastructure package passed, moderates would have no incentive to compromise on the larger reconciliation legislation. Moderates, like Representative Abigail Spanberger of Virginia say that “success begets success,” and a win on infrastructure would be a catalyst to act swiftly on other parts of Biden’s agenda.

The problem for Biden and congressional progressives is that Manchin and Sinema have different priorities. Manchin agrees with the Democratic left that funding for the social agenda should come, at least in part, from rolling back the Trump-era tax cuts, which were a boondoggle for the very wealthy. The West Virginian is on board with raising the top individual tax rate and the capital gains rate. Sinema appears to oppose raising tax rates for the very rich. Sinema has indicated that addressing climate change is a top priority for her, while Manchin remains committed to the fossil fuel industry. The presence of so many moving parts makes compromise difficult, but with creativity, not impossible. 

Various polls have shown public support for both infrastructure measures. Funding for roads and bridges is popular, with one poll indicating 83 percent support for hard infrastructure. The nation’s roads and bridges are in such disrepair and public approval for infrastructure improvements is so high that even some Republicans climbed on board and supported the hard infrastructure package in the Senate. Solid majorities of Americans favor many of the parts of the soft infrastructure proposal, with 67 percent supporting spending on preschool programs and 55 percent in favor of expanded child tax credits. Two-thirds of respondents agreed that raising taxes on the rich and corporations was the proper way to pay for these innovations. 

A great number Democrats seem to agree that a deal will be reached. Moderates now understand that the physical infrastructure bill and the broader social investment program are linked and that the hard infrastructure bill cannot be considered alone. Progressives realize that the overall spending amount has to come down to satisfy Manchin and Sinema. Now, the bargaining begins.

Creativity is needed to work out a deal. But, it appears now that all sides have at least an inkling of where the various factions stand. And, Spanberger is right: Success does beget success. Passage of the two infrastructure bills might pave the way for movement on other parts of the president’s agenda, including, most importantly, voting rights legislation aimed at preventing Republicans denying the franchise and stealing future elections. 

Be creative, Democrats! And, get it done!

Posted October 5, 2021

 

 

Where Is the Bottom?

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

How low can Republicans stoop? Every time I think Republicans have hit rock bottom in subservience to former President Donald Trump, willingness to participate in the overthrow of the U.S. government and/or cover up the January 6 insurrection, or jeopardize the health and well-being of their constituents, they shatter the floor with new desperate and dangerous actions.

I should stop being surprised. After all, the modern Republican Party has become a terrorist and/or criminal enterprise. And, its behavior is going to get worse and worse until the voters give Republican candidates such a thumping at the polls that Republicans either have to change course or go the way of the Federalist and Whig Parties. Probably the latter, because there is no bottom for the Republican Party.

A recent shocker — though at this point, not much they do shocks — from Republicans: A memo written by Trump loyalist lawyer John Eastman — discussed in Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s new book Peril and obtained by CNN — shows Republicans discussing, and apparently seriously considering, how to overturn the results of the presidential election, which Joe Biden won in a free and fair vote. Eastman’s conspiratorial plot was simple in its proposed execution and deplorable in its probable results. Eastman suggested Vice President Mike Pence — presiding over the joint session of Congress meeting on January 6 to certify the election results — should declare that there are no valid electors from seven closely contested states that recount after recount, and court case after court case, show Biden won. That would give, Eastman proffered, Trump victory in the Electoral College by a tally of 232 to 222.

If the Democrats “howl” no fair since 270 electoral votes are required to win, Eastman said, “fine,” send the matter to the House of Representatives where each state has one vote. Since Republicans control a majority of state delegations, Trump would be re-elected in this scenario. There is more to the memo — such as a filibuster in the Senate by some Republicans to prevent certification of the election results if and when both chambers considered the results — but Eastman’s intended result is clear: Overturning the will of the voters who gave Biden a solid majority in both the popular vote and the Electoral College. 

That Trump was intrigued by the Eastman memo is no surprise. What is most appalling is that Pence apparently paid more attention to the proposed coup than was previously thought. Pressured relentlessly by Trump, Pence asked confidants if it were possible for him to do Trump’s bidding. In late December, according to Woodward and Costa, Pence called former Vice President Dan Quayle, a fellow Indiana Republican, for advice. Quayle was insistent, telling Pence, “Mike, you have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away.”

Even more horrendous: Trump and his cohort were plotting to overthrow the Constitution based on purported evidence of voter fraud that the Trump team knew was baseless. The New York Times obtained an internal memo prepared by the Trump campaign that debunked the outlandish claims of fraud. Despite this knowledge, lawyers for Trump continued to hold news conferences asserting widespread cheating and filed lawsuits alleging a vast conspiracy to rig the election against Trump. It is not clear who in the campaign knew what concerning the memo, but clearly those in the know sat on the information.

Not satisfied with overthrowing constitutional norms, Republicans once again are playing chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States, apparently willing to see the government default on its loans. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says “America must never default” on its debts, yet he refuses to provide any Republican votes to raise the debt ceiling.

Raising the debt limit is necessary because soon, probably late next month, the government is going to run out of money. The Treasury Department at that point will not be able to borrow because the congressionally mandated borrowing limit will have been reached. This is routine, and both parties have cooperated in a bipartisan manner in the past to raise the debt ceiling. But, this time, McConnell insists the Democrats alone must provide the votes to raise the debt limit, arguing that Democrats are recklessly spending money. That is, of course, a specious argument since the debt comes from money already allocated, not future spending. And, the debt of the United States rose about $8 trillion under Trump, an increase of 36 percent in four years.

Republicans are not only reckless with the political stability of the United States and the nation’s credit. They are also heedless of the health of Americans, especially children. How else to interpret the ruling from Florida’s newly appointed surgeon general who says it is up to parents to decide whether to quarantine children exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19? Dr. Joseph Ladapo — yes, he is a graduate of Harvard Medical School — eliminated previous rules requiring students to stay away from school for at least four days if they had been exposed to coronavirus. Under Ladapo’s rules, children may continue to attend school if they are asymptomatic.

Republicans are not satisfied merely to oppose mask and vaccine mandates. Now, they are willing to allow children exposed to COVID-19 to attend school. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says infected people can spread the virus for two days before they display any symptoms. 

In pursuit of political power, Republicans are willing, apparently, to plot insurrections, jeopardize the financial stability of the United States, and risk the health of schoolchildren. So, the answer to the question in the title of this piece is clear: There is no bottom for today’s Republican Party. That is a grave misfortune for us all. 

Posted September 24, 2021

Quality, Not Quantity

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Debates in America over major policy initiatives usually focus on cost. When the policies under scrutiny carry a price tag of 100s of billions — even trillions — of dollars, politicians in Washington and the public have good reasons to zoom in on money.

But, monetary quantity is not the sole criterion for judging whether Congress should enact legislation. Quality matters, too, and never more critically than in the debate about to begin on the massive $3.5 trillion proposal on so-called “soft” infrastructure such as universal preschool, paid family leave, expanded child tax credits, and other parts of the legislation that finally would bring the United States into line with other industrial democracies that provide such services and benefits for their citizens. 

Moderate Democrats in the Senate — Krysten Sinema from Arizona and Joe Manchin from West Virginia, among others — complain about the cost of President Joe Biden’s signature legislative proposal. Manchin, in particular, warns that he cannot support legislation that totals more than $1.5 trillion and suggests he would be happy if the final price tag is as low as $1 trillion. 

Manchin, Sinema, and their cohort of moderate Democrats are wrong to base their decisions solely on cost. For one thing, the money will be spent over a decade. For another, Democrats plan on raising taxes on the wealthy and enacting other measures to pay for the infrastructure plan. In no year would spending authorized under the infrastructure package exceed 3.45 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. And, there is no compelling evidence suggesting that the measure would spike an inflationary spiral, as some have worried. 

America can afford the cost. So, the question is: Can America afford not to pass the infrastructure package? If enacted as proposed, the bill would guarantee prekindergarten and community college for every American. It would bolster America’s competitiveness globally and reassert the nation’s role in fighting climate change. The way to think about the massive proposal is to imagine President Franklin Roosevelt stuffing the entire New Deal into one piece of legislation.

The package has widespread public support, regardless of cost. A poll conducted for HuffPost reveals that voters support the infrastructure plan by a two-to-one margin if told it costs $3.5 trillion, $2.5 trillion, or $1.5 trillion! The cost of the package had no influence on the level of support. Obviously, most Americans find these numbers incomprehensible, so the importance of the difference among the price tags may have little relevance. Still, it may be that voters are focusing on what is really important in the package and finding the cost largely irrelevant if the money is spent on the right programs.

The respondents in the poll may intuitively grasp that money spent on early childcare provides benefits far exceeding cost. Studies show, for example, that generous tax credits to families in need reap great benefits in improved health, education, and future earnings. The temporary child tax credits, for example, in President Biden’s initial economic recovery act — passed last spring — have reduced childhood poverty dramatically.

Still, for those who say, yes the bill contains many important parts that deserve serious consideration, but the cost…the cost… for them, I have a modest proposal.

Bear with me. When President Biden spoke of the end of America’s military involvement in Afghanistan, he made the following comment: “$300 million a day for 20 years. What have we lost as a consequence in terms of opportunities?” That comes to over $2 trillion. Obviously, that money cannot be recouped, but America spent it without suffering any serious domestic repercussions. We did not go broke. We did not suffer serious inflationary pressures. And, I have not even mentioned the money spent in Iraq over the same period. Adding that to the Afghan expenditures gives a cost total roughly equal to the $3.5 trillion for the proposed infrastructure plan. Americans should consider the cost of past foreign and military adventures when considering future domestic spending. 

The United States spends $700 billion a year supporting a huge military with bases and responsibilities around the world. Do we really need to spend that much money on the military? When pulling troops out of Afghanistan, Biden suggested that America’s global responsibilities will shrink. If so, that leaves a large question unanswered: What to do with the immense global military machine? If the United States is no longer going to try to impose democratic norms throughout the world, do we really need the huge military we now have? 

I am not suggesting unilateral disarmament. The world in 2021 is still a dangerous place. Russia is a threat, though a much reduced threat from the Soviet era. Still, it is a nation with a huge stockpile of nuclear weapons. China is an even more serous geopolitical threat requiring vigilance on our part. And, international terrorism remains a danger demanding close surveillance and the resources, both personnel and materiel, to respond quickly.

Still, does the United States need to spend more on national defense than China, India, Russia, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, Japan, South Korea, Italy, and Australia — combined? China spends $250 billion annually on its military, second to the United States. But that is little more than a third of U.S. spending.

Cutting 50 percent of military spending would mean the United States would still outspend China by $100 billion while saving $350 billion annually. Over ten years, that savings would amount to $3.5 trillion — the proposed cost of the current infrastructure plan to invest in the nation’s future. I ask again: Can America afford not to pass the infrastructure package? Think about it. The quality of life in the United States and the repercussions globally depend on the answer. 

Posted September 21, 2021

Republican Tyranny Writ Large

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

[T]his unconstitutional move is terrifying. This is still America, and we still believe in freedom from tyrants. — Mississippi Republican Governor Tate Reeves

Memo to Governor Reeves:

Tyranny? Really, governor? Requiring a jab in the arm, which is proven effective and which in the above tweet you also call “life-saving,” is tyrannical? Are you not aware that the current Delta surge is a pandemic of the unvaccinated? While you and others erroneously refer to President Joe Biden’s announcement of measures to contain the coronavirus as a mandate, are you not aware that your own state mandates that all children must be vaccinated against a whole host of diseases? Do you not know that Mississippi does not permit any exemptions to this mandate?

Tyranny? Puh-leeze! Give me a break! A shot in the arm, and, while we are discussing tyranny, a piece of cloth over your face hardly constitute tyranny. No, rather, both are merely sound public health policy.

Governor, do you and your colleagues among the other Republican governors want to discuss tyranny? Fine, let us have that conversation. 

What about the tyranny of Texas and other states denying the pregnant control over their own bodies? Is it not tyrannical to force a pregnant person to carry to term the result of rape or incest? To not allow that person to decide the most personal of issues? Is that not tyranny?

What about the tyranny of denying whole groups of citizens the right to vote? Is it not tyrannical to rig elections — as Texas has, and other states are mimicking — so that a minority of voters can insure the undemocratic outcome they want? Some of these laws allow legislatures to overturn the legitimate results of an election. I do not know about you and your definition of tyranny, but throwing out legitimately cast ballots just because voters preferred your opponent strikes me as what tyrannical rulers do all the time. What do you think?

And, while we are discussing tyranny, governor, let us not forget the former president, Donald Trump, who insists to this day that a free and fair election he lost was stolen. Is it not tyrannical for him to attempt to bully Georgia state election officials to “find” enough votes to deny Joe Biden Georgia’s electoral votes and give them to him? Is it not tyrannical for Arizona Republicans to outsource an electoral recount — after three previous reviews confirmed Biden’s victory — to an organization with no experience in tallying votes but which is headed by a Trump loyalist who embraces the former president’s baseless theories? Do you not see a problem with handing control of the recount to an entity that does not follow the normal protocols for protecting the sanctity of the ballots? 

And, finally (although I could go on, but you get the point), what about the tyranny of a defeated candidate who “summoned” and “assembled” a mob, in the words of fellow Republican Liz Cheney of Wyoming, and then directed it to the Capitol in a futile (thankfully) attempt to intimidate and prevent members of Congress from fulfilling their constitutional duty to certify the election of the next president of the United States? Was it not tyrannical for 147 Republicans members of the House and Senate to vote to overturn the election results? A majority of Americans — including me — voted for Joe Biden for president. Do you not think we would find it tyrannical if your fellow Republicans had succeeded in overturning an election that we — a majority — won? 

Excuse me if I am befuddled by your definition of tyranny if none of the above strikes you as tyrannical, while you easily label a vaccine prick in the arm tyranny?

There is much that is absurd about your calling Biden’s directives tyrannical. For one thing, while you call the president’s “mandate” tyranny, Biden, in fact, did not mandate anything regarding workers in private businesses, which is what you and other governors appear to find most objectionable. Biden gave workers in businesses with 100 or more employees an opt-out clause. If a worker does not want to get vaccinated, he or she must submit instead to weekly COVID-19 tests. Mandates require a citizen to do something without exception. Biden’s directive provides a choice for those opposed to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Secondly, your complaint, governor, that Biden’s directive is unconstitutional is rooted in a bad interpretation of law. The Supreme Court has twice upheld vaccine mandates. The first ruling came in a 1905 case involving smallpox. Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote in that decision that a “community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members.” Moreover, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 permits the Labor Department to issue standards regarding workplace health, which is what it has done requiring workers in businesses with more than 100 employees to get vaccinated or regularly tested.

Third, I suspect, governor, that you are secretly pleased with Biden’s directives. The president has given you and your Republican colleagues cover to continue to rail against a “tyrant” who “mandates” vaccines, allowing you to shore up your right flank, while Biden’s directives curb a pandemic that is killing your constituents. Voters in your state, governor, will be pleased when the infection rate comes down, and, I suspect, they will not remember the reason. Come election day you can, then, remind voters that you stood unflinchingly against Washington’s “tyranny.”

I find your cynicism in this matter appalling, governor. You are playing Russian roulette with the lives of your constituents, encouraging them to refuse a vaccine you know is safe while you also know that mandates are constitutional and that your state mandates vaccines for all its children.

You are amoral, governor. But thank goodness for you and the rest of us, President Biden knows what to do.

Posted September 14, 2021