Tag Archives: Shelley Moore Capito

Democrats at a Crossroad

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

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

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

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