I really am flummoxed by the ineptitude of President Joe Biden and his chief of staff, Ron Klain. Biden has been a Washington politician for half a century, including eight years as vice president and before that a senior senator. Klain is a consummate Washington insider, having worked for Janet Reno, Al Gore, Biden and others.
How are they this inept?
Last summer, the border got swamped with migrants. They sent Vice President Kamala Harris south of the border and the situation never improved. Activists accused border patrol agents of whipping refugees with horsewhips. The White House condemned the act. But an investigation recently revealed no immigrants were whipped. White House staff have declined to apologize for believing the allegation.
Many border patrol agents are Hispanic. The criticisms of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the border patrol by the left are criticisms of Hispanic voters and their families — a constituency the Democrats are losing. But the White House seems openly hostile to both.
Now, having seen what monsoon of migrants the summer brought last year, the Biden administration is preparing for the expiration of Title 42. The pandemic is receding. Title 42 can be deployed as a health care power so long as the pandemic is at the forefront. It allows the surgeon general to keep people from entering the United States due to a health care crisis. With a receding pandemic, Title 42 has to go away. It’s only a matter of time before some enterprising Trump judge scraps it to exacerbate the political problems for Biden.
Here’s the thing: How are we in April of 2022 in a midterm election and the White House clearly has no plan to deal with the surge of illegal immigrants and expiration of Title 42? Their own polling shows this issue is pushing Hispanic voters to the GOP and they’ve got nothing. They have had plenty of time to prepare and did nothing to prepare.
How are they this inept?
The Biden administration was caught flat-footed on Ukraine too. They knew the Russians would invade. They chose to provide Ukraine help but have constantly scaled back their original offers. The administration has slow-walked intelligence to Ukraine, putting the Republicans in a more pro-Ukraine position than Biden. Biden has accused Russia of genocide and then taken no actions equal to the accusation. Just last week, the United States promised helicopters on a Thursday and walked back the promise that same Friday.
How are they this inept?
Then there is the mask issue. They could have let it expire a few weeks ago and taken the credit. Instead, a federal judge in Florida threw it out. Then Joe Biden himself said people should have the choice whether they want to wear a mask or not. Less than six hours later, his administration decided to appeal to get the mask mandate reinstated. But they are not going to ask for its immediate reinstatement. Instead, they’re going to ask for the authority to be able to reimpose it in the future.
So, in other words, Biden could have canceled the mask mandate a few weeks ago, rendered the court case moot, preserved the power to reimpose it and taken credit for its end. But Biden and Klain did not. Instead, they will now ask a court to preserve power for the organization that insists you not eat raw cookie dough and cook your steak to an internal temperature of 145 F.
How are they this inept?
Between the border, Ukraine and the masks, they really have no plans for governing. They have just decided to perpetuate the status quo of their own making in the hope that something shakes out. They are careening from crisis to crisis, two clowns in bumper cars colliding with crises of their own creation.
The best they have going now are their pundit partisans lamenting that really Biden is a victim of circumstance unable to control anything. And that is not much of a defense.
Some might say this is all part of some elaborate plan, but the Republicans are about to wipe them out. That is most assuredly not part of the plan. How are they this inept?
The American political system is far from perfect but is generally considered to be better than most all others. Its openness, transparency and level of citizen involvement may be unequaled anywhere else in the world.
Still, some look upon the way America elects its officials as a fundamentally flawed, anti-democratic process prone to cheating. The proponents of major change, once considered to be on the fringes of politics, have moved a lot closer to the center of power in both major parties in the last few years.
There are lots of ideas for reform on the table. One that continues to gather steam originated in the aftermath of the election of 2000, when the country had to wait weeks before it knew which candidate—former vice president Al Gore or then-Texas governor George W. Bush—carried Florida and, with it, a majority in the electoral college.
Everyone knows how it finally turned out. A group of disappointed Democrats, however, believing Gore had been denied victory not by the voters but by Supreme Court Justices loyal to the GOP, began considering ways to ensure it never happened again. They proposed a method for choosing presidential electors based on the results of the national popular vote for president.
The idea is now drawing support from some Republicans as well because, they say, presidential campaigns currently rely so much on the critical “swing states” that each state where the outcome is more or less is predictable is neglected. As a result, millions of potential GOP voters stay home because, as far as choosing a president is concerned, their votes don’t matter much at all.
Every American should believe their vote counts. Under the terms of the proposed National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC), the candidate who receives the most votes nationwide would win all the electors from states that are members of the compact. This mechanism, its proponents say, would incentivize both major parties to compete for every vote in every state.
Critics of the idea have called it unconstitutional, arguing it changes the process for choosing a president without a constitutional amendment or congressional approval. Supporters say that’s not so—the compact leaves the Electoral College intact but changes the way states party to it choose their electors. That’s a privilege the Constitution reserves for the state legislatures. Currently, 15 states and the District of Columbia, covering nearly 200 electors combined, have enacted legislation bringing them into the NPVIC, which only goes into effect when enough states with enough electors to determine the outcome of an election—270—sign on.
Regardless of what people say about it, it’s an idea that may someday come to pass. Many Republicans resist the idea because they believe it will give Democrats the opportunity to steal an election through fraud in cities in big states like Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania. Those concerns are blocking the compact from advancing further because the majority of state legislative chambers are currently controlled by the GOP.
That’s not going to last forever. Such things can turn on a dime, like in 1974 when the GOP lost hundreds of seats nationwide thanks to Richard Nixon’s misdeeds. It looks increasingly likely Joe Biden‘s mismanagement of the presidency will produce similarly tremendous losses up and down the ballot for the Democrats this November.
The smart move for anyone who cares about election integrity would be to take up the issue of fraud and potential fraud now. As much as some people seem to believe voter identification laws will do the trick, it’s the issue of the voter rolls and their accuracy that should occupy their time.
The best protection against future fraud, say some election law experts, would be changing the way voter rolls are maintained to keep them clean. States should henceforth require that deceased voters be removed from the rolls no more than 30 days after a certificate of death is registered.
The relevant officials in each state should also have to review county tax rolls to see if the addresses listed on the voter rolls given by people when they register are indeed residential or other permissible addresses as required by state law. Similarly, court clerks should be required to send weekly or monthly reports to election officials identifying people to whom jury summons are undeliverable so they may be struck from the lists.
Finally, we might all be better served if we treated voter registration like we do drivers’ licenses by putting an expiration date on it. Voters, especially those who are put on the rolls automatically because of the federal Motor Voter law, should be required to renew their registration every few years to help maintain the accuracy of the lists.
These reforms are common sense and, if enacted, would do much to reassure a nation rocked now and again by charges of fraud. Elections are too important for their vital elements not to be maintained with the highest degree of scrutiny.
When Sen. Joe Manchin announced on Fox News that he could not support President Biden’s Build Back Better legislation even at its reduced price, he took heat from White House Press Secretary Jan Psaki, followed quickly by criticism from journalists and pundits.
“How will the nation ever address the enduring market failures, glaring inequality, and big social-safety-net gaps that the Build Back Better plan was designed to tackle?” asked New Yorker columnist John Cassidy. Manchin was also accused of voting against his state’s interests, while others attributed his no vote to the fact that he takes campaign money from the coal, oil and gas industries. This week, the coal miners’ union upped the pressure by calling on West Virginia’s senior senator to vote for BBB.
As a political scientist who has studied and written about Congress for over 50 years, I do not find it surprising that an incumbent more conservative than the average Democratic senator should balk at legislation he considers too liberal. Nor was it surprising when a Republican who occupied a space on the spectrum to the left of the average GOP senator vexed party leaders by voting at the last minute to preserve the Affordable Care Act, which is what John McCain did.
I don’t find any of that surprising because I was around when Bill Clinton came to office — after 12 years of Republican presidents — with high hopes for universal health care, a large jobs stimulus plan, tax increases, family leave, and a major energy tax. A brief review of some of these measures and who determined their fate is useful.
The energy tax (calculated on British thermal units) was reduced to a small increase at the gas pump by moderate Senate Democrats from oil patch states, most specifically John Breaux of Louisiana and Oklahoma’s David Boren. That duo, plus Sun Belt moderates such as Sam Nunn and Dennis DeConcini made sure that Clinton didn’t derail the North American Trade Agreement over environmental and labor issues, which is what labor-friendly colleagues were pressuring the administration to do. In order to get his job stimulus bill through Congress, Clinton jettisoned some urban spending and an expansion of student loan grants. Legislation expanding national service programs had to be cut by over half before centrist Democrats would vote for it. And the much-touted universal health care bill shepherded by first lady Hillary Clinton never made it out of the relevant House committees. Reps. Mike Andrews of Texas and Jim Cooper of Tennessee were among those who objected to the cost.
The same pattern held when the Republicans took over Congress in 1995 for the first time in 40 years and tried to enact various elements of their “Contract With America.” The Senate during 104th Congress had only 52 Republicans, meaning that it needed the votes of every centrist Republican to pass anything. Two states alone prevented conservatives from acting on balanced budget legislation, term limits, and efforts to curb unfunded mandates. Oregon’s delegation (Mark Hatfield and Bob Packwood) and Maine’s (William Cohen and Olympia Snowe) were made of confirmed moderates. These four, along with Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Jim Jeffords of Vermont, and Democrat-turned-Republican Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado forced the leadership to simply abandon the idea of reducing Medicare and Medicaid.
Given this history, no one should be surprised that a moderate (or conservative, if you prefer) Democrat elected from a conservative state that Joe Biden lost by nearly 40 percentage points should balk about transformative progressive legislation or that such a lawmaker can determine the fate of major legislation. As I say, it’s happened before. The George W. Bush administration began with a 50/50 Senate with Vice President Dick Cheney casting the deciding vote in case of ties. Some of Bush’s conservative policies ranging from tax cuts to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge were watered down by a combination of more liberal Republicans (including Snowe and Specter), along with newer additions Lincoln Chafee and Susan Collins of Maine. Jim Jeffords actually left the GOP, swinging the balance in the upper chamber.
Yet today things are different. What distinguishes Manchin and his treatment from that of Breaux, Boren, Specter, Snowe and the others? The first thing is that there are not many Democrats elected to the Senate from “red” states anymore. I’m talking about Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia. In Clinton’s first Congress, 20 of the 26 Senate seats representing these states were held by Democrats. In the present Senate, there is one, and only one, Democrat elected from those 13 states. Yes, his name is Joe Manchin.
In the 103rd Congress, the states of Delaware, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington had more Republican than Democratic senators. In the present Senate these states have no Republican senators. The sorting and polarization that has occurred over the last three decades results in fewer moderate senators of either political party. The smaller the number of such lawmakers the more likely they are to be targeted for criticism and electoral challenge. In the Clinton era it was harder to assail them because there were more of them — and they were people whom liberals might need on the next key legislative vote.
The overall effect of party sorting is that voting in the Congress has become much more polarized. In the Senate during Bill Clinton’s first term in the White House, Americans for Democratic Action (a liberal organization that awards numerical scores to members of Congress) recorded an average of 75% percent support among Democratic senators for liberal policy, with 13 of them showing less than two-thirds support for ADA-backed legislation.
In the same Congress, the ADA gave Republican senators an average score of 20%, with seven moderates registering scores between 40% and 75%. These scores are in sharp contrast to the contemporary Senate where, in 2020 (the last year data are available), the average Democratic score was over 95% percent while Republicans averaged less than 4%. The lowest Democratic senator — no surprise — was Manchin, who voted the liberal position 75% of the time, a score equal to the average in the 103rd Senate.
On the Republican side there were only two senators who scored over 10% on the liberal index with the high score being 25%. In sum, in the sorted and polarized Congress there are fewer and fewer moderates. And while moderates like Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema still impact legislative results, they increasingly face scathing attacks from members of their own party. Manchin’s position was labeled “anti-Black, anti-child, anti-woman and anti-immigrant” (Rep. Cori Bush) and his reasoning “bullshit” (Ilhan Omar). House Progressive Caucus leader Pramila Jayapal claimed publicly that Manchin “betrayed his commitment not only to the president and Democrats in Congress but, most importantly, to the American people.”
In the days when there were more centrists in Congress, one did not find the intensity and number of such intra-party attacks. Much is lost in addition to civility. Those senators closest to the 50th vote in the chamber have always transformed policy. The end result in the Clinton and Bush presidencies was legislative compromise that, in each case, prevented the party in power from veering too far in the direction of the ideological purists and their party’s left or right base.
In the politically sorted and polarized Congress today, there is little tolerance for anything other than extreme policy. This is one obvious reason why the American people do not think highly of the Congress and its policy process. In the final YouGov poll of Donald Trump’s presidency, only 14% of registered voters approved of the job Congress is doing. Those numbers have ticked up slightly in the past year, but in the RealClearPolitics poll average, a solid two-thirds of voters disapprove of Congress.
The ultimate question that liberal purists must ask themselves is: How do we win a majority — or get anything accomplished — if Democrats such as Joe Manchin and Rep. Abigail Spanberger (pictured) of Virginia are not progressive enough? Republicans face an even more difficult quandary: How do they build sustainable majorities if everyone who accepts the outcome of the 2020 presidential election is not fit to be a GOP candidate for elective office?
It is these days hard to imagine West Virginia electing a Democrat. If Manchin were not in the Senate, where would the liberal agenda be? Without winning Senate and House races in more moderate or conservative states like Arizona, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, it is hard to see how Democrats will maintain control of Congress in future elections. The intense criticism of Manchin and Sinema for defending the filibuster and questioning Build Back Better is unlikely to move crucial centrist-minded independents to maintain Democratic control of both branches of the Congress. If and when Republicans regain the majority, they will be faced with the same purity problem but over a different set of issues, mainly those revolving around Donald Trump’s ambitions. In sum, for both parties, purity is fatal for solving problems and sustaining majorities.
Garland’s memo, issued in October, instructed “the Federal Bureau of Investigation, working with each United States Attorney, to convene meetings with federal, state, local, Tribal, and territorial leaders in each federal judicial district,” in order “to facilitate the discussion of strategies for addressing threats.”
The attorney general’s directions were inspired in large part by a letter from the National School Boards Association (NSBA) citing a number of incidents and arguing that some of them verged on domestic terrorism.
Both the incidents themselves and the label have come under significant scrutiny. Sixteen of the 24 examples listed by the NSBA constituted tense verbal altercations, which did not include physical threats. And the remaining examples, if criminal, fall squarely under local and state jurisdiction. One of the instances pointed to by the NSBA was the arrest of Scott Smith, the father of a sexual-assault victim in Loudoun County, Va. None of these, critics say, fall under the category of “domestic terrorism,” or even fit within the Bureau’s purview.
The NSBA has apologized for the letter, having seen significant membership losses as a result of it. Since its release, 17 state school-board associations have left the NSBA and 27 have publicly condemned it.
Adam Lee is a former special agent in charge of the FBI’s Richmond division and national executive for the FBI’s public-corruption and civil-rights programs. He oversaw the FBI’s involvement in the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 and even interviewed with former president Donald Trump to replace James Comey as director of the FBI.
Lee called the memo “pretty rare,” in an interview with National Review, noting that in his long tenure at the Bureau, he only saw a couple of items like it. Of even more concern to Lee was the fact that “the only way that [the memo] is hitting FBI jurisdiction at all is under the rubric of domestic terrorism.” According to Lee, the bureau’s domestic-terrorism program, which is held within its counterrorism division, includes resources and permission structures that he’d be concerned to see brought to bear against Americans.All Our Opinion in Your Inbox
“The counterterrorism division’s incredible capabilities were built to target foreign terrorist organizations under Title 50, which is all the PATRIOT Act enabling statutes. It is a juggernaut and has saved countless American lives,” explained Lee.
But, he added, “it is a scary prospect to turn those capabilities inward on U.S. persons. The Bureau is bound by the constitutional protections which all law enforcement in America is rightly constrained by.”
Lee doesn’t “have concerns that FBI professionals will run out and start violating core constitutional principles,” but he submits that “the worrisome dimension of tagging Americans as domestic terrorists is the scrutiny it brings and the resulting data collection and assessments of the counterterrorism division. Americans should be confident that, absent an existing predicate of criminality, the government has no interest in their personal activities.”
Lee’s concerns were echoed by Bill Corbett, a retired supervisory agent who worked on national security and criminal matters for the Bureau. He told National Review that “it doesn’t seem like, substantively, there’s really anything. I don’t think that anyone’s seen any incidents of actual organized violence for political ends that might fit in that rubric of terrorism.”
Corbett was particularly surprised that even after the NSBA apologized for its letter, Garland declined to back down from his memo and the instructions therein during hearings on Capitol Hill. In rebuffing calls to rescind his memo, Garland claimed it was only partially motivated by the letter and cited unspecified media reports as the other motivator. Corbett emphasized the ways in which the memo might further undermine confidence in the FBI and federal law enforcement more generally, arguing that it constituted a betrayal of trust and an “encroachment into the public square, into First Amendment spaces, and we’re doing it because of safety and security.”
“It turns out that was sort of an empty, politically-loaded claim,” he observed, calling it a “black eye” for Garland’s DOJ that “quickly kind of collapsed in on itself.”
Corbett was, however, encouraged by reporting from the Daily Caller that FBI director Christopher Wray had told a group of former agents that the FBI would stay in its lane and refrain from any behavior that might have a chilling effect on speech about educational policy. The Bureau has, however, created a “threat tag” for data collection on threats against schools and officials, but Lee and Corbett both downplayed them as direct threats to Americans’ civil liberties, describing them as a sorting mechanism.
The downstream effects, however, could be somewhat more pronounced. the tags are “a mechanism just for general bookkeeping, passively,” said Corbett. “But it also has an ability of kind of chilling people because this isn’t the Department of Agriculture here, this is the FBI,” an agency capable of investigating and jailing Americans. As such, Corbett argues that anything, even something seemingly innocuous like creating a threat tag, “has to pass the sniff test.”
Lee concurred, calling the tags themselves a “passive way of compiling data around a threat issue to determine its scope,” but he also acknowledged that “it is fair to call the creation of a tag follow-through and, depending on what the data reveal to FBI analysts, it could foretell further steps for the FBI.”
He also expressed concerns over not just the appearance of political bias, but its consequences on Bureau behavior. “It is essential that FBI leadership remain politically agnostic and actively resist the pressures of political actors within government. The vast majority of my career was spent in field assignments; the special agents I worked alongside for nearly a quarter-century are the most honorable among us,” said Lee.
And yet, he nevertheless observed, “even those street agents with the highest integrity, however, are still working a mission dictated to them by leadership.”
At the end of the day, senators care more about protecting themselves and their colleagues from unpredictable, inconvenient floor votes than they do about passing legislation.
Official Washington’s conventional wisdom about the Senate filibuster is a fairy tale. It is utterly unmoored from the choices being made by individual senators, party caucuses, and the body as a whole. Every person who has ever told you that the mean, nasty, outdated legislative filibuster is the source of Senate gridlock and the obstacle to common-sense legislating in Congress has either swallowed, or is peddling, a lie.
In an op-ed in the Washington Post this week, Ethics and Public Policy Center scholar Henry Olsen suggests requiring filibusters to be at least nominally bipartisan as a way of solving the familiar filibuster “problem.” What follows is not a fisking of Olsen, who is a good guy and perhaps the best electoral analyst in America today, but a corrective to the apparently universal pundit-class misunderstanding about what’s really going on inside “the world’s greatest deliberative body.”
The mistake everyone makes is looking at Senate inaction and asking, “How can we change Senate rules so it can start legislating again?” The better question is, “Why did the Senate stop legislating in the first place?”
The answer isn’t “gridlock,” any more than “a car” drove through that parade in Wisconsin. Somewhere along the way, senators’ behavior changed. It’s not a coincidence this happened along the same timeline as the polarization of the parties over the last 30 years. Partisan filibusters were harder, and bipartisan legislating easier when the Senate had dozens of conservative-leaning Democrats and liberal-leaning Republicans.
Before moving inside the chamber, let’s take stock of an important but easily overlooked point: Senate Democrats as a group are much farther left than they were in, say, 1990, and Senate Republicans are more uniformly conservative.
Because pundits and people who read them tend to be consistent ideologues themselves, this kind of polarization seems normal, even enlightened. But all it really means is that both parties in the Senate have drifted away from—abandoned, even—the middle of the country.
The public didn’t lurch left or right. Senate rules didn’t change. Congress is simply less representative of the American people than it used to be. Pew’s well-worn ideological scatter chart from the 2016 election exit polls illustrates the point below.
The sweet spot in American politics would seem to be left-but-not-too-left-of-center on economic issues and right-but-not-too-right-of-center on cultural issues. (I’m conservative on both, for whatever it’s worth.) But today, congressmen and senators tend toward the upper-right or lower-left—the ideological extremes—with elite journalists overrepresented in the nearly empty lower-right: woke private-school parents.
The strike zone for both parties looking to forge a majority, then, should be the upper-left. This would be your pro-lifers for universal health care, men who want only their unions to build the border wall, women who want to raise taxes to build more prisons for pornographers and drug dealers. Such people—real, live, working-class moderates, the sort who decide our national elections—are thin on the ground in Washington, D.C. Indeed, they seem downright unwelcome in both parties.
Nuking the filibuster to establish a majoritarian Senate, in the context of our actual country, would only empower out-of-touch, unpopular, ideological extremists to unilaterally impose their outré elite values on a public that dislikes them. Constitutionally speaking, in the morality play of congressional politics today, the filibuster is the good guy. It’s not the hero we deserve, but the one we need, stopping Republicans from gutting social programs and Democrats from banning guns or red meat.
So, if the Senate’s rules aren’t the cause of Senate inertia, what is? Snarky Washingtonians will say “Republicans.” But that’s silly. Both sides take up the others’ tactics whenever the Senate changes hands. Gridlock is not an external force exerted on the Senate.
Nor is gridlock a condition imposed on it by an uncooperative minority. No, inaction is always a policy choice affirmatively, consciously taken by the majority. “Gridlock” and “obstruction” are weasel words Senate majorities use to duck responsibility for their own decisions.
Contrary to beltway shorthand, passing bills through the Senate doesn’t require bipartisan compromise. It just requires compromise, full stop. There’s a difference. Sixty-vote majorities could be found on almost any issue, any week of any year, through an open amendment process on the Senate floor. Heck, they could call up a blank bill for floor consideration, and let every Senator offer whatever amendment he or she wanted, and before too long, a final bill that could get 60 votes would emerge.
Both parties know this, and refuse to do it. Why? Because an open amendment process—“the wild west,” they call it—would force senators to take amendment votes that would, quelle horreur, lay bare their actual beliefs and policy priorities to their constituents.
That’s it. That’s the whole story of Senate “gridlock.” Not the filibuster, not cloture, not grandstanding, not Donald Trump or “norms,” or “obstruction” or any other nonsense you’ve been told.
At the end of the day, senators care more about protecting themselves and their colleagues from unpredictable, inconvenient floor votes than they do about passing legislation. This, and no other reason, is why both parties now legislate via secret negotiations, followed by an obnoxious, rigged floor process (“filling the tree”) that blocks all amendments except the ones mutually agreed to by the party leaders.
Remember, the amendments this process blocks are not the ones that wouldn’t pass, but the ones that would. Most Democratic senators don’t want to have to vote on popular Republican amendments to, say, curb immigration or protect gun rights. Likewise, most GOP senators don’t want to have to defend a vote against a higher minimum wage or increased spending for children’s health care.
All kinds of bills and amendments could get 60 votes in the Senate today. The problem is, they would be the wrong 60 votes—majorities representing the public as such instead of their party. When the dust settled, lots of incumbents on both sides would invite dangerous primary or general election challengers next time they faced the voters.
A good example of such a bill is the Higher Wages for American Workers Act, introduced by Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Tom Cotton, R-Ark. It would raise the federal minimum wage to $10 and mandate the “E-Verify” instant immigration-status test for all employers.
To normal Americans, this might sound like a sensible compromise; to Washington insiders, it’s a five-alarm fire. It would be a brutal floor vote, triggering dozens of Club for Growth- or Squad-backed primary challenges and crippling TV ads come November.
If Senate leaders ever opened up the floor, that’s the kind of legislation senators would face: popular, cross-partisan, and career-threatening. Party leaders—always at the behest of their constituents, the senators themselves—see their job as never letting an organic, unchoreographed, cross-partisan majority work its will on the floor on behalf of the American people.
Instead, majorities negotiate bills to get all of their team’s votes plus just enough of the other team’s to pass maximally partisan legislation. To leaders, this is a correct 60-vote majority that, with proper supervision and stage direction, may be permitted to pass bills through the United States Senate.
Ultimately, Senate majorities do not see gridlock as a frustrating, inferior alternative to passing legislation. They see it as a superior alternative to the transparency and accountability that comes with discharging their constitutional responsibilities.
Not convinced? When was the last time you saw a Senate majority of either party really put their shoulder to the wheel to break a partisan filibuster? I don’t mean whining to cable news or talk radio. I mean work: staying in session all night, for days on end, forcing late night attendance, including the sick old men, the cancellation of weekend plans, missing piano recitals and family weddings? Never.
If Senate majorities really want to pass legislation, they could, anytime, through a combination of compromise, transparency, and the exertion of physical energy. This approach has not been tried and found wanting, but found inconvenient and left untried.
Finally, those on the left who think a post-filibuster Senate would help their cause are really missing the forest for the trees here. Senate Democrats are never going to nuke the filibuster to “enshrine Roe’s protections” in federal law, as New York Times columnist Ezra Klein proposed on Twitter yesterday—not because they are weak or deferential to norms, but because Roe is really, really undemocratic.
Even without a red wave election, Klein’s Roe Act would quickly be watered down to a restrictive bipartisan compromise he would hate. And when the next red wave did come, the Democratic Party would be left limping for a generation.
The vast majority of federal policies today rendered untouchable by the Senate’s 60-vote cloture threshold was written between the 1930s and 1960s when even Republicans were proud liberals. Are three years of Roe-lite or some half-baked Green New Deal ramp-up really worth giving President Ron DeSantis, House Speaker Jim Jordan, and Senate Majority Leader Ted Cruz free-rein to rewrite the Great Society and New Deal, the APA, the NLRB, NEPA, civil service, education, and immigration law in one swing?
They would decentralize and defund dozens of power centers within the progressive movement. The left has unimaginably more to lose from a majoritarian Senate than the right.
As a conservative who would welcome lots of those reforms, I nonetheless recognize that our system is built for consensus and stability. In America, it’s ideologues like Klein and me who are the weirdos, not the majority of the country with supposedly less consistent views. It’s good that we never have too much power.
At any given moment, both parties are advancing, on different issues, popular and unpopular ideas. The way the Senate is designed to work is, the popular ideas get creatively cobbled together and passed as consensus compromises. And the unpopular ideas are discarded as slogans for the performance artists in the House.
The only reason this doesn’t happen today is that senators’ real, if unstated, top priorities are personal convenience and partisan positioning. Passing major legislation is a distant second or third. What we see on C-Span2 every day is the majority applying minimal-to-modest effort to pass legislation, and maximal effort to protect their seats and undermine the other side.
The Senate’s rules do not stop it from legislating. It’s the senators themselves, entitled and vain, cowering in the shadows behind the one thing in Washington with the courage to stand up for all of us, simultaneously against the mob and the elite. The filibuster isn’t our hero. It’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight.
Now is the autumn of Democratic discontent
President Joe Biden practically begged a group of moderate Democrats visiting him in the Oval Office Wednesday to say how much money they are willing to spend on the massive “Build Back Better” reconciliation bill making its way through Congress. According to Politico‘s Playbook, he didn’t get an answer.
The 11 moderates, including Senator Joe Manchin and congresswoman Stephanie Murphy, insisted that Democrats agree first on how much revenue they will raise in taxes before settling on a price tag on a bill that would transform energy, health care, higher education, pre-K, and paid leave. A disappointed Biden assigned the moderates homework: Come up with something that will stop Progressive House members from killing the separate, $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package that already has passed the Senate and is scheduled for a September 27 House vote.
Best of luck. In another meeting Wednesday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who heads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, pulled a Wendy Sherman and broke into tears while pleading that the reconciliation bill include an immigration amnesty (the Senate parliamentarian has said it can’t). Jayapal urged Biden to delay Monday’s vote or be prepared for Progressives to nix the infrastructure deal. Biden didn’t give in, but he did leave open the possibility that the vote won’t take place on September 27 as planned.
Yet any postponement would create new problems for the White House. House moderates have pledged to sink the reconciliation bill if they don’t get to vote for infrastructure first. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can afford to lose only three votes. And the Senate is tied, with Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema still cagey about what they want to do. And oh, by the way, Congress needs to fund the government before September 30 and raise the debt ceiling before mid-October. Is your head hurting yet?
Democrats have run smack into political reality, and it isn’t pretty. They spent months convincing themselves that a presidential election decided by 42,000 votes in three states, a tied Senate, and a 220-212 House (with 3 vacancies) is the same as FDR’s and LBJ’s supermajorities. Now they are just figuring out that the coalition that put them into office doesn’t agree on much of anything besides the idea that Donald Trump shouldn’t be in the White House.
Now the autumn of 2021 is turning into a reckoning for a Democratic Party that wanted to leverage a squeaker election into fundamental change. Like their predecessors in 1993 and in 2009, frontline House Democrats have to decide whether supporting a liberal agenda is worse for their careers than denying a president of their own party a legislative win. Either way, they lose.
Chance, guile, and missteps put the Democrats in this position. They hardly could believe their luck when Trump’s sour grapes cost the GOP two winnable seats in Georgia and handed Vice President Harris the tie-breaking vote in the Senate. What they forgot was that full control of government is a mixed blessing: Your partisans expect the sun, moon, and stars, while independents have no one else to blame when things go wrong. A Republican Senate might have given Biden a foil, and a reason to govern as the centrist he pretended to be during the campaign. Instead, he has no wiggle room. Thanks, Trump.
GOP leader Mitch McConnell made two decisions that complicated things further. First, he okayed Republican involvement in Senate infrastructure negotiations. Yuval Levin of the American Enterprise Institute (where I work) writes that GOP participation began “as an effort to turn down the temperature on the filibuster, then after a while it seemed like it might actually have enough votes to pass, and at that point it became clear that it could also further divide the Democrats.” Senate passage of the deal heightened the contradictions within the House Democratic caucus and guaranteed unified Republican opposition to the reconciliation bill.
Second, McConnell got his conference to agree that any increase in the debt ceiling should come from Democratic votes alone. Democrats from swing districts and purple states have to own their party’s spending binge. It’s a subtle and somewhat cynical move (Republicans add to the debt, too). But it’s also politically shrewd. Nor is the economy really in jeopardy. This isn’t 2011. In the end, Democrats can and will raise the debt ceiling themselves.
President Biden’s degraded political standing is behind the Democrats’ troubles. Biden’s mixed messaging and missteps in the pandemic, the crisis on the border, the rise in crime and inflation, and the debacle in Afghanistan have caused his approval rating to plummet. He’s at 46 percent approval in the FiveThirtyEight polling average. Gallup has him at 43 percent approval—and at just 37 percent among independents. In bellwether Iowa, he’s at 31 percent. Progressives in ultraviolet districts can ignore these numbers. Moderate Democrats cannot.
Still, a weak president and disunited Congress may not be enough to guarantee the collapse of the Build Back Better program. Democrats recognize the need for a win, no matter how small. They assume it’s the only way for Biden to make up lost ground and prevent a Republican takeover of the House, and possibly the Senate, in 2022. But presidential priorities have fallen apart before. Trump didn’t get Obamacare repeal, Obama didn’t get cap and trade, and George W. Bush didn’t get Social Security reform. Biden already got the $2 trillion American Rescue Plan. That might be it.
What’s worse—abject failure or unpopular success? Trick question: Both options are horrible. If Democrats think this fall is bad, just wait until they have to live through the next one.
The back-and-forth over the so-called infrastructure bill working its way through the U.S. House of Representatives is helping perpetuate a myth that is distorting the people’s perception of where we as a country are. That perception is that there is, somehow, within the House and Senate and sprinkled throughout the Biden administration, a substantial cadre of moderate Democrats who are doing all they can to block a leftward lurch toward big-government socialism pushed by one wing of the party.
It makes for nice reading and it’s an easy story to write. Unfortunately, it’s inaccurate. As far as national politics is concerned, the Democratic Party has been running the moderates out for years. As former House Speaker Newt Gingrich pointed out in a recent policy document that’s making the rounds, virtually every Democrat in the U.S. House and Senate voted for the budget outline produced by Senator Bernie Sanders—a self-identified socialist.
The Sanders document, which includes $3.5 trillion in new and higher spending, $3 trillion in new and higher taxes, and a host of radical regulatory proposals intended to roll back 40 years of deregulatory reform that started with Ronald Reagan, is a left-winger’s pipe dream. The only objections to it Democrats have had—Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema excepted—have centered on the cost, not on what the proposed legislation would do.
The division among Democrats is real, but it’s not based on ideology. All but one Democrat recently voted for a bill that would eliminate state restrictions on late-term abortions and codify the Supreme Court‘s decision in Roe v. Wade. Democrats are united on policy but opposed (or at least some of them are) to doing things that will cost them their seats the next time they run.
It’s not principle that’s keeping the Democrats apart—it’s politics. Why were Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer insisting on Republican votes to pass an increase in the debt ceiling? Because some members of their party who are up for re-election in 2022 need to be able to vote “no” on that issue—and they can only do that if a few GOP lawmakers can be persuaded to vote “yes.”
The “moderate” myth is useful for those Democrats who want to go home and pretend they fought against the largest expansion of government since LBJ gave us the Great Society. They’ll promise their voters they’ll continue to fight for pro-business policies and might even again earn the endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But it will all be a fallacy. The Democratic Party has been taken over by people who take their cues from the British Labour Party circa 1960—not the free-enterprise entrepreneurs who built this great nation.
The polling, the Gingrich document said, “is clear and devastating” for those who think the federal government needs to be bigger and do more. “Americans in general favor Free Market Capitalism over Big Government Socialism by a huge margin (59 percent to 16 percent),” Gingrich wrote while, among so-called independent or “swing” voters, the advantage for those who oppose the Sanders/Biden agenda grows to 82 percent to 18 percent.
The infrastructure bill was held up because too many Democrats refused to risk their seats by voting for it. It’s not a “moderate” piece of legislation even if it was written with Republican support. It includes such intrusive measures as the establishment of a pilot program that is supposed to come up with the best way to tax cars and trucks by the number of miles driven.
The reconciliation package? Even worse.
As Gingrich and others have observed, the Democrats in Congress were all-in at the beginning when it counted—when the process of getting these bills through began. The framework for each mostly survives, whether or not any given bill emerges from the legislative process intact. What cannot be accomplished in a day will be pushed by Democrats for weeks, months and years. President Joe Biden has said he has it in mind to correct 40 years of policy mistakes that, in his view, hobbled this formerly great nation. Biden’s objective: Roll back the Reaganite revolution that brought America back from the brink. What a foolish objective—and certainly not a moderate one.
The Susan B. Anthony List, a national organization that backs anti-abortion candidates running for public office announced Tuesday that, in partnership with Women Speak Out PAC, it had kicked off a “six-figure” effort over the August congressional recess to expose what it called “the abortion extremism” of as many as 20 Democrats currently serving in the U.S. House and Senate.
“Most Americans oppose taxpayer funding for abortion on demand, yet a majority of Democrats have no problem ignoring their constituents to vote in lock-step with the abortion industry,” Mallory Quigley, the vice president of communications for the SBA List and Women Speak Out’s national spokeswoman said.
The push to highlight the records of what organizers have labeled “The Terrible 20” began Monday with the posting of digital ads, a grassroots-driven phone call campaign, and a three-state press tour kicked off in North Carolina.
“Senators and representatives who insist on forcing taxpayers to fund abortion on demand and support barbaric, late abortions without limits must and will face the consequences of their extremism at the ballot box. SBA List’s ongoing campaign to expose abortion extremism in battleground states and districts includes a multifaceted education campaign and even door-to-door visits from our field team,” Quigley said.
The targeted Democrats – referred to by the campaign on social media as the #Terrible20 – include those who voted with the Biden Administration on initiatives to expand abortion and access to funding by ending the protections provided by “The Hyde Amendment” and other anti-abortion measures that have for decades blocked taxpayer funding of abortion and abortion-related services.
The targeted Democrats who make up the #Terrible20 are:
–Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA)
–Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ)
–Rep. Deborah Ross (NC-02)
–Rep. Tom O’Halleran (AZ-01)
–Rep. Stephanie Murphy (FL-07)
–Rep. Lucy McBath (GA-06)
–Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux (GA-07)
–Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03)
–Rep. Sharice Davids (KS-03)
–Rep. Jared Golden (ME-02)
–Rep. Elissa Slotkin (MI-08)
–Rep. Haley Stevens (MI-11)
–Rep. Christopher Pappas (NH-01)
–Rep. Tim Ryan (OH-13)
–Rep. Susan Wild (PA-07)
–Rep. Matt Cartwright (PA-08)
–Rep. Conor Lamb (PA-17)
–Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (TX-15)
–Rep. Elaine Luria (VA-02)
–Rep. Peter DeFazio (OR-04)
All are thought to be seeking spots on the November 2022 ballot — though not all are running for re-election. Reps. Ryan of Ohio and Lamb of Pennsylvania have thrown their hats in the ring and are seeking the nomination of their party to run for the open U.S. Senate seats in their states. Sens. Warnock and Kelly, first elected in 2020 to fill unexpired terms, are expected to seek election to full six-year terms in the next election.
New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says while she is not seriously considering challenging Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in next year’s Democratic Party, she also has not yet ruled it out, the New York Post reported Monday.
A race between the two would set up a battle that could affect the Democrat’s bid for outright control of the U.S. Senate. Schumer is currently the majority leader, but only because Vice President Kamala Harris is empowered, as president of the Senate, to cast a vote to break any ties that may occur in the chamber which, since January of this year has been evenly divided, with 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats.
As a loud and proud progressive, AOC has worked tirelessly to drag her party to the left, creating conflicts with the more moderate members of her party who represent suburban districts held by the GOP before the 2018 election and whose interests Schumer safeguard from the other side of the U.S.
The 2020 congressional elections will be held in new districts drawn to reflect the population changes recorded in the 2020 national census. The final numbers are scheduled to be released later in August but, based on what is already known about the population shifts between the states, New York will lose one congressional seat. Mapmakers could, redistricting experts say, easily fold AOC’s current seat representing areas in the Bronx and Queens counties into one occupied by another Democrat, creating the need for a party primary that she could lose. Her efforts to keep the talk of a potential primary against Schumer alive may be a bluff designed to get the senator’s allies in Albany to make sure she gets a seat she likes and keeps.
AOC attempts to tamp down those rumors down by consistently portraying herself as a committed progressive who doesn’t think about electoral politics. “I know it drives everybody nuts. But the way that I really feel about this, and the way that I really approach my politics and my political career is that I do not look at things and I do not set my course positionally,” she said in an interview CNN aired Monday. “And I know there’s a lot of people who do not believe that. But I really — I can’t operate the way that I operate and do the things that I do in politics while trying to be aspiring to other things or calculating to other things.”
Should AOC decide to enter the Senate primary, it won’t quite be the David v Goliath battle some are suggesting it might be. Ocasio-Cortez is far stronger than she makes out, with a national fundraising network of her own that, while may not match Schumer’s would certainly allow her to be competitive. The contrast between the two would be noteworthy as it would pit the far left from the Reagan-Bush era – as represented by the Senate majority Leader – against the new Democrats who are driving the party’s agenda.
Should she win, it would have profound national implications by creating an opportunity for New York Republicans, working in concert with disaffected Democrats and traditional independents put off by AOC’s radicalism, to possibly win the seat in November – threatening national Democratic plans to win back control of the Senate. There’s plenty there to work with, especially AOC’s controversial views on foreign policy which, influenced as they are by Rep. Ilan Omar of Minnesota and Michigan Rep. Rashida Tliab, matter a great deal to voters in the area in and around New York City.
AOC has an opening only because Schumer – still learning on the job how to be majority leader – has had little success so far moving the progressive agenda through the Senate. Prominent progressives are growing grumpy that the changes they had been led to expect are coming at such a slow pace, if at all – and blame it on Schumer’s inability to keep Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Arizona’s Krysten Sinema from breaking ranks in much the same way the GOP’s ability to achieve its policy goals was constantly frustrated by the late John McCain’s independent streak.
Still, AOC has done the unexpected before, coming out of nowhere to defeat 10-term Democrat and potential House Speaker Joe Crowley in a 2018 primary in New York’s 14th congressional district. This is probably something Schumer and his political team are thinking about a lot, adding to the pressure he’s feeling from the White House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the sizeable progressive caucus in both congressional chambers to get their agenda through the Senate. Until she makes up her mind, he’s in for at least a few sleepless nights.
Washington does well as the world falls apart
On August 8 the White House chief of staff, Ron Klain, turns 60 years old. It is, writes Mark Leibovich of the New York Times, a much-anticipated event on the D.C. social calendar. Klain, you see, has commemorated earlier “round-numbered birthdays” by throwing large, sumptuous “blowouts,” including a fête at a Maryland farm in 2011 where hundreds of VIPs gathered to eat deep-fried Oreos and deliver “tributes to the honoree.”
Everyone who was anyone in Barack Obama’s Washington was there. One’s absence signified one’s exclusion from the tribe. To know Ron Klain, then, is to have entered the power elite. “Plans for his 60th,” Leibovich continues, “have become such a source of Beltway status anxiety that a small universe of Washington strivers is angling for details: Some have asked White House contacts whether a celebration is in the works and if invitations have gone out.”
Needless to say, I don’t expect to be invited. Nor is there anything wrong with Klain throwing himself a bash: Having just celebrated a “round-numbered” birthday myself, I can attest that there is nothing more fun than gathering a bunch of your family and friends in one place for an evening of food and drink (and more drink).
What struck me instead as I read Leibovich’s slightly tongue-in-cheek profile was the distance between the bourgeois comfort of Klain’s personal and professional life and the facts, as they say, on the ground. One cannot finish reading the Leibovich piece without coming to the conclusion that, all in all, things have worked out pretty darn well for Ron Klain. For America? Not so much.
Klain is the most powerful chief of staff in recent memory, the beating heart of Joe Biden’s White House, a man whose portfolio is so wide-ranging and whose boss is so (let’s face it) odd that Republicans on Capitol Hill refer to him as “Prime Minister Klain.” Like most Washingtonians, he is a well-degreed workaholic, a graduate of Georgetown and Harvard Law School who has spent decades rotating from positions in Democratic administrations to lucrative gigs at the intersection of law, technology, and finance. He calls his expensive home in Chevy Chase, Md., “the house that O’Melveny built,” after legal giant O’Melveny & Myers, where he was a partner from 2001 to 2004.
Among his clients there were AOL Time Warner and Fannie Mae. In 2004 the chairman of AOL Time Warner, billionaire Steve Case, invited Klain to join his D.C.-based venture capital firm, Revolution. Leibovich informs us that Klain’s salary in 2020 was some $2 million. That buys you a lot of hors d’oeuvres.
What Ron Klain actually did in the private sector—besides tweet—is no mystery. By the alchemical process through which influence is manufactured in Washington, he converted his relationships with Democratic power brokers into cash money. “At times,” wrote Michael Scherer in a November 2020 profile for the Washington Post, “Klain appears to have worked with every Democratic leader of the past three decades.” Such a network is worth something to the incalculable number of interests seeking out favors, damages, or relief from the federal government.
And such a network is all the more valuable when it includes a president. In addition to Klain’s smarts and drive, it has been his considerable luck that he has worked for Joe Biden in various capacities since the 1980s. Indeed, the only hiccup in what the Times calls Klain’s “ascension” was his boneheaded, finger-in-the-wind decision to endorse the campaign of the worst presidential candidate in modern history before checking in with Biden first.
When Klain signed on with Hillary Clinton in 2015, Biden had not yet removed himself from consideration for the Democratic nomination. The vice president interpreted Klain’s announcement as an act of disloyalty. Leibovich writes that the rupture with the Biden family, “especially with Jill Biden,” was intense, if relatively brief. Scherer of the Washington Post reports that, after Hillary managed to lose to Donald Trump, another longtime Biden aide, Steve Ricchetti, arranged for Klain to meet with the future president and come to terms. Klain was back on the inside. All was well.
Recent days have offered plenty of evidence of just how good it is to orbit President Biden. The lobbying firm of Steve Ricchetti’s brother Jeff saw a quadruple increase in fees between the first half of 2020 and the first half of 2021, according to the Wall Street Journal. So far this year, Ricchetti Inc. has taken in $1.67 million. “I do not lobby my brother, nor have I lobbied the White House this quarter,” Jeff Ricchetti said in an email to the paper, in one of the most cleverly constructed sentences I have read in a long time.
Surely Jeff Ricchetti understands that Counselor to the President Steve Ricchetti is not the only employee of the executive branch, that “lobbying” is an amorphous term, that the “White House” or Executive Office of the President is just one of innumerable executive and legislative bodies that make policy, and that “this quarter” is only the third of four per year. What did he do in the first two?
Frank Biden, the president’s younger brother, is a senior adviser to the Florida-based Berman Law Group and boastedof his genetic connection to the Oval Office in an Inauguration Day advertisement. As for the president’s son Hunter—well, words fail me. Suffice it to say that Hunter’s latest gambit to profit from his last name, selling his psychedelic abstract expressionist paintings to “anonymous” donors, is such a transparent grift that even big tech isn’t trying to censor criticism of it.
Yes, it’s good to know a president. But what about, you know, the rest of the country? “People in and around the White House describe Mr. Klain as the essential nerve center of an over-circuited administration whose day-to-day doings reflect how this White House works and what it aspires to,” writes Leibovich. What the White House aspires to, it would seem, is continuity and routine: Klain arrives early for work and leaves late, hardly travels with Biden, and spends his hours managing the rickety contraption that is this president’s agenda.
But the “normalcy” of White House operations contrasts sharply with the turbulence buffeting the world outside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. On the day Leibovich’s story appeared, for example, markets plunged over fears of the spreading coronavirus variant. Similar fears of inflation and crime are roiling the electorate. The southern border is experiencing the largest surge in illegal migration in 20 years.
On the global stage, the Taliban rampage throughout Afghanistan. Russian and Chinese cyberattacks continue despite Biden’s warnings to Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. The negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program go nowhere fast. For all of Biden’s rhetoric, which itself is often confusing, America is not in a good place.
“Party details for his 60th birthday on Aug. 8 remain elusive,” writes Leibovich, “although there has been talk that Mr. Klain might skip a big gala this summer and do a small family celebration instead on the big day.” I should hope so. The man has a lot of work to do. The Biden circle is living high on the hog while America and the world are coming apart. Prime Minister Klain, call your office.
National Republicans have spent much of the last few months confounded by a challenge. Their opponents are attempting to compel them to choose between embracing Donald Trump and rejecting him. The former president’s shadow looms over everything—and will, until he announces his intentions for 2024.
A lot can happen between now and then. GOP leaders like Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) need to go to the American people now with alternatives to what the Democrats are offering. Waiting on Trump to make up his mind or worrying about what he will say is a big mistake.
The Republicans came out of the last election in a much stronger position than many commentators are willing to acknowledge. They gained seats in the U.S. House and, were it not for Trump’s post-election temper tantrum, would have maintained their majority in the U.S. Senate instead of losing two seats in Georgia they should have easily won.
Trump’s campaign autopsy put the blame for the president’s defeat on a failure to manage the COVID crisis effectively. That may have been more perception than reality—since his inauguration, Biden has done little more than stick to the plan already in place regarding what to do after a vaccine was developed. Yet, having voted for the “moderate” Democrat who would “fix” the pandemic, many Republicans and Independents now find themselves incredulous at the speed with which he’s moved to the hard left.
Biden hasn’t been able to get his agenda through, but not because the GOP has pushed back persuasively. The GOP is benefitting from an ideological split among their Democratic opponents who, with the narrowest of majorities in both chambers, are led by two spectacularly unimaginative leaders. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are intent on getting everything passed in one or two bills. With the slim majority they have, that’s a bad strategy.
The GOP leadership needs to reflect on how long it can go before it must posit substantive alternatives to the Democrats’ radicalism. It needs to pivot and refocus the conversation on the most important issue: jobs and the economy.
While the economy is adding jobs, it’s not as many as most economists predict it should be. Republicans should find it galling that Biden claims the credit when his initiatives are job killers. The jobs we’re seeing the economy add were created under Trump after the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act but eliminated because of the lockdowns that governors—most of them Democrats—kept in place far too long.
Instead of focusing on Washington, McConnell, McCarthy, RNC Chairman Ronna McDaniel and the rest of the GOP leadership should direct the American people’s attention to the states. That’s where the contrast between the two parties really shows.
It’s the Republican states where jobs are coming back the fastest. The five states with the lowest unemployment rates in June 2021 have Republican governors and at least nominal GOP legislative majorities. The eight with the highest unemployment rate are led by Democrats. Republican leadership in the states is succeeding first because their economic fundamentals were sound to begin with. And second because the governors of those states, unlike their Democratic counterparts, had the good sense to suspend the unemployment bonus payments that allowed people to stay at home drawing checks rather than look for work.
In Arizona and Ohio, for example, GOP governors Doug Ducey and Mike DeWine just signed off on tax cuts that will improve the business climate and the outlook for family budgets already being squeezed by “Bidenflation,” with consumer prices already up by more than 5 percent over last year. In Mississippi, GOP leaders like House Speaker Philip Gunn are pulling together a plan to increase competitiveness and attract jobs by phasing out the state income tax. All this is happening at the same time that Joe Bidenand his administration are trying to raise taxes through the roof in the U.S. while getting the industrialized nations of the world to agree to adopt a growth-killing minimum global corporate tax.
The GOP has a compelling tale to tell. It’s a story of how one political party will, if given the chance, take the American people down a path leading to limited government, more personal choice in key areas of life like health care and education, lower taxes, incentives to grow the economy and new jobs while the other party is primarily concerned with making government bigger and then feeding its unending hunger through higher taxes. The choice could not be clearer, so why not talk about it?
In Biden's America, the action is outside the Beltway
It took a few days away from the nation’s capital for me to appreciate how boring the place has become. Recently I returned from a trip to California and discovered that I hadn’t missed anything—no presidential scandal, no legislative logrolling, no surprise vacancies on the Supreme Court. Yes, the pace of events slows down in Washington every summer. Congress goes on recess and metro residents travel for vacation. But 2021 is different. This year, D.C.’s irrelevance is neither seasonal nor exceptional. It’s the norm.
Since Bill Clinton’s impeachment, the city has been the site of momentous events and world-defining debates. The fallout from the 2000 election, 9/11, the war on terrorism, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the surge, the financial crisis, the election of Barack Obama, Obamacare, the Tea Party, the debt ceiling, the response to the Arab Spring, the 2013 government shutdown—they all testified to the centrality of Washington.
Donald Trump’s descent on the escalator in 2015 intensified press coverage. His victory in 2016 upped the political stakes. The Trump presidency unfolded in spectacular, captivating fashion. It was a live-broadcast, four-year, nonfictional telenovela, complete with a climactic twist and a tragic ending. On occasion, the cast traveled to Singapore, Hanoi, Helsinki, and Mar-a-Lago. But the main set was the Oval Office.
Well, the show is over and the thrill is gone. It used to be that the federal city—and its chief executive—drove the national conversation. But President Biden purposely limits his exposure to remain as uncontroversial as possible. “Boring news cycle deals blow to partisan media,” read the headline of an article in Axios on June 29. The piece tracked a fall in web traffic, app user sessions, and social media engagement since President Trump left office. Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, tweeted out the story. “Sorry not sorry,” he wrote.
After 12 years of highly visible celebrity presidents, the current occupant of the White House is a 78-year-old who eschews social media, rarely gives one-on-one interviews, limits himself to about one public event a day, calls on pre-selected reporters at press conferences, often refers to notes, and returns home to Delaware most weekends. Joe Biden’s spending plans may be gargantuan and foolish, his decisions on the border and on Afghanistan may be impetuous and disastrous, and his offhand remarks may be puzzling and odd, but no one gets worked up about him personally. Last month Doug Rivers of the Hoover Institution observed that voters don’t consider Biden an ideologue. It doesn’t matter that Biden’s goals are more ambitious than Obama’s: Far greater numbers of voters said that Obama was “very liberal” than say the same of Biden today.
This low-key presidency combines with tight margins in Congress to diminish Washington’s importance. Unlike his two most recent predecessors, Biden is not an omnipresent figure. The 50-50 Senate blocks the progressive wish list from becoming law. The result is a devolution of controversy to the state, municipal, and local levels of government. Not in two decades covering politics, for example, have I seen state legislatures receive as much attention as they have in recent months.
Meanwhile, the big political news is Democrat Eric Adams’s victory in the New York City mayoral primary. What’s unique about Adams is that he ran the first New York campaign in decades with national implications. His triumph underscored the electorate’s concern with rising crime rates. It demonstrated that even Democratic primary voters in a majority-minority city oppose defunding law enforcement.
“According to recent data from the Democratic-oriented Navigator Research,” writes Ruy Teixeira in a recent issue of the Liberal Patriot newsletter, “more Americans overall, including among independents and Hispanics, now believe violent crime is a ‘major crisis’ than believe that about the coronavirus pandemic or any other area of concern.” This alarm over rising crime manifested itself locally before becoming apparent to officials in Washington, including Biden, who scrambled to announce a crime reduction plan in late June.
The most glaring sign of the Beltway’s detachment from national life has been the movement against critical race theory (CRT) in public schools. Like the Tea Party, this movement is spontaneous, self-organizing, and uncontrolled. Unlike the Tea Party, however, it is focused on a hyperlocal (yet super-important) issue: K-12 instruction. As of this writing, the anti-CRT movement fields candidates for school boards. Congress is an afterthought.
The national politicians who amplify the movement’s rhetoric are piggybacking on a grassroots phenomenon. And while the fight against CRT has implications for federal policy, it is not as though the right’s answer to far-left school boards is national curricular standards. On the contrary: The parental revolt over “woke” education bypasses Washington, transcends party lines, and has clearly defined and limited goals.
What’s fascinating about the anti-CRT campaign is that its most prominent antagonists are not elected officials. The Tea Party pitted rebels such as Jim DeMint, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz against the Republican establishment and Barack Obama. But the participants in this most recent iteration of the culture war are different. The anti-CRT spokesman Christopher Rufo of the Manhattan Institute is a documentarian and activist, and Bari Weiss and Andrew Sullivan are journalists. The most famous advocates of so-called antiracist education are Nikole Hannah-Jones, lead writer of the New York Times‘s 1619 Project, and Ibram X. Kendi of Boston University. Fights over CRT don’t take place in the halls of Congress, but on Morning Joe.
Maybe political entrepreneurs in the coming months will appropriate and elevate the issues of voter ID, crime, and anti-American pedagogy into national campaigns. Maybe the anti-CRT movement will follow the Tea Party and use the 2022 election to springboard into the Beltway. Maybe the next president will impress himself or herself into the national consciousness in the manner of an Obama or a Trump. Or maybe the next president will be Trump.
For now, though, Joe Biden is president. Congress is deadlocked. Both the left and right are more interested in values than in entitlements. The media track the states, the cities, the schools. Why? Because the real action is happening in places like Atlanta, Tallahassee, Austin, Phoenix, New York City, and Loudoun County. Not in Washington, D.C.
A Lakeland, Colorado citizen’s group filed suit Thursday in federal court challenging the constitutionality of a city law regulating the organization’s reporting on candidates in its newsletter.
Attorneys with the Institute for Free Speech who are representing the Lakewood Citizens Watchdog Group said the city’s requirement for the newsletter to identify donors and to include campaign disclaimers in its articles because the cost of publishing and distributing it crossed a $500 threshold violate the First Amendment.
“If the council can redefine reporting and commentary as campaigning, it can punish news outlets that criticize candidates in the months leading up to an election. Congress and the state of Colorado both exempt the media from their campaign finance laws to avoid this precise outcome,” said Institute for Free Speech Senior Attorney and Deputy Vice President for Litigation Owen Yeates said in a release.
The suit asks the court to find the newsletter, The Whole Story, is protected by the constitutional guarantees of free speech and a free press and that the $3,000 fine it was assessed for violating a local ordinance is unconstitutional.
From 2015 to 2018, the Watchdog published The Whole Story without encountering any problems. In 2019 the city council passed an ordinance imposing regulations on any entity spending more than $500 on communications that mentioned a candidate for office within 60 days of a municipal election. As the new rule made no exemption for the media, it became impossible for the group to report on local elections without potentially being forced to register with the city, publish disclaimers on articles, and expose their supporters, its attorneys said.
The Watchdog’s fall 2019 issue, which covered that November’s elections for mayor and city council, was found by a city adjudicator to be guilty of making “unambiguous references to current candidates” in The Whole Story and ordered to pay $3,000 in fines. To cover future local elections, the group would have to file invasive reports about its supporters with city officials and print campaign-style disclaimers in its newsletter.
While Lakewood’s laws pose a threat to any media outlet, the people behind The Watchdog are not surprised they were targeted first. “We report stories other media outlets won’t, and we aren’t afraid to blow the whistle on the city government. The council may not like it, but that’s what the First Amendment is for,” Dan Smith, president of the Lakewood Citizens Watchdog Group said.
“By failing to exempt news gathering and reporting from its campaign finance laws, Lakewood has unconstitutionally infringed on the freedom of the press,” the group’s brief says. “That freedom is essential to a functioning democracy, even more so in the context of elections. Politicians may wish to control who can speak about them, but they can’t regulate The Whole Story.”
The Watchdog is an independent publication mailed to Lakewood residents two to three times per year, with a circulation of approximately 22,000. The case is Lakewood Citizens Watchdog Group v. City of Lakewood.
In Washington, there are two kinds of Republicans: those who care what The New York Times writes and those who don’t. As hard as it is to believe, there are still some in the GOP who care deeply about what the liberal media establishment says, though it’s not clear why.
The Times has been losing readership for years, along with its power to set the national agenda. It still has influence in the Acela corridor—that swath of urban liberalism between Washington, D.C., and Boston—and among the people who select the stories the major networks will cover. But most Americans get their news from the internet, where, as far as information about politics is concerned, it’s still the wild, wild west.
Among folks who use the internet as their primary source of information, the Times has about as much impact as a fly on an elephant’s back. To these people, what the so-called paper of record says about the GOP, conservatives in general and Donald Trumpspecifically doesn’t matter a swivel-eyed tinker’s damn.
To the elites, Wyoming representative Liz Cheney’s ouster from the No. 3 position in the House GOP leadership is a big deal. To them, it’s all about Trump—a person whose influence, Cheney and her newfound brethren seem to believe, must be cleansed from the party. To those who follow the House closely and understand how these things work, it’s not such a big deal.
Regarding Trump, Cheney is at odds with most of her Republican colleagues. Most of them, it seems clear, either continue to embrace the former president or would rather avoid talking about him, and instead prefer to spend their time and political capital opposing the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris vision for America.
This is not an unreasonable position to take. Nor is Rep. Cheney’s—as an individual member of Congress. If she wants to spend her time crusading against Trumpian elements within the Republican Party, she has every right to do so. However, as a member of House GOP leadership, she has obligations that go beyond the dictates of her own conscience. She is responsible to the colleagues who put her in office and who—earlier this term—voted to keep her there. That means she should be on the Sunday shows and out in the hustings helping GOP candidates take control of the House back from Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats. She can’t do that if all she wants to talk about, as she’s made clear, is Trump.
The Republicans should be favored to win back the majority in 2022, based on reapportionment and redistricting alone. For all the Democrats’ protestations about gerrymandering—which they used to extend their own congressional majority for at least an additional 10 years beginning in 1982 without a word from elite media save for the Wall Street Journal editorial page—a fair map drawn without any demographic trickery should easily add the number of seats needed for the GOP to reach and exceed the magic number of 218. But, because nothing in politics is certain, unfocused GOP leadership could throw a wrench into the works and prevent it from happening.
The list of things that could go wrong for Republicans’ House prospects is long and largely speculative. High atop it, though, is a campaign in which Democrats and major media outlets force GOP congressional candidates to defend Trump day in and day out instead of taking the attack to Biden and the Democrats. In that environment, Cheney’s repeated condemnations of the former president and his influence on the party would not have been helpful to winning the House Republican Conference a majority for the two years before the next presidential election. And it would have been fatal to the Republican Party’s attempt to regain control of the Senate.
Members of the congressional leadership are expected to be team players. Leaders, even in the minority, must balance the interests of all members of their conference against their own. It is not easy and not a job for the faint of heart. But the number one priority, former House speaker Newt Gingrich once told me, is “Don’t do anything that will start a civil war inside your own party.” Cheney broke that rule and received the appropriate consequence. She has not been thrown out of office or stripped of her committee assignments. She’s now free to pursue what she thinks best for herself and the GOP without diminishing the prospects the other Republicans serving with her will be reelected.
In Washington, that matters. Out in America, where real life exists, not so much.
As a political issue, crime is back.
Between the uproar over police shootings in Minneapolis and other cities, the demands by activists to “defund the police,” and a spreading “blue flu” pandemic that seeing veteran police officers walk off the job – in some cases not to return – crime in America is on the rise. Even if the national political media hasn’t yet caught on.
But they will. It’s inevitable because few issues hit home as closely as personal safety does. What drives many BLM adherents into the streets to protest police shootings is not just the sense, amplified by the media coverage, that they aren’t safe in their neighborhoods but that the biggest threat comes from the very people who are supposed to protect them.
It turns out, a new poll says, that your sentiments on the issue are influenced considerably by which television news network you watch. “Fewer than 50 unarmed black suspects were killed by police last year and more people were killed with knives than with so-called ‘assault weapons,’,” the polling firm Rasmussen Reports said Friday, “but viewers of MSNBC and CNN are far more likely than Fox News viewers to get those facts wrong.”
The firm found 50 percent of likely U.S. voters who identified CNN or MSNBC as “their favorite cable news outlet” believed the number of unarmed African Americans who were fatally shot by police in 2020 exceeded 100. “By contrast, only 22 percent of Fox News viewers believe police shot more than 100 unarmed black people last year.”
The poll, found just about one in four of CNN viewers and one-in-five MSNBC viewers thought cops “fatally shot more than 500 unarmed black suspects last year” while only one in ten Fox viewers thought the same thing.
“Fox News viewers (60 percent) were about three times more likely than viewers of MSNBC (19 percent) or CNN (23 percent) to correctly estimate the number of unarmed black people shot and killed by police in 2020 as less than 50. Sixty percent (60 percent) of talk radio listeners also estimated the number correctly,” the firm said the data collected showed.
Each year about 1,500 U.S. homicides annually are committed with knives and fewer than 500 are committed with rifles. However, 30 percent of likely voters thought the number of annual homicides involving rifles was more than 500, including 18 percent who said they believed it was more than 1,000 homicides, Rasmussen Reports said.
“Thirty percent of MSNBC viewers correctly estimated the number of homicides committed with rifles as between 100 and 500, as did 22 percent of CNN viewers and 19 percent of Fox News viewers. However, while 63 percent of Fox viewers underestimated the number of killings with rifles as less than 100, viewers of CNN and MSNBC were more likely to overestimate the number of homicides committed with rifles. Forty-three percent of CNN viewers and 40 percent of MSNBC viewers believe rifles are used in more than 500 homicides annually, compared to just 19 percent of Fox News viewers. Only 26 percent of talk radio listeners overestimated the number of homicides committed with rifles.”
The survey of 2,000 U.S. likely voters was conducted on April 29-May 3, 2021 by the Heartland Institute and Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 2 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence. To see survey question wording, click here.)